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Sorrow and Sun Catchers

Kathryn and I met when I was 21 and she was 92.


For several years in my early twenties, I volunteered in the activity department of a nursing home. My task was to provide bed-bound patients with thirty minutes of interaction per day. Having outlived her parents, siblings, husband, and daughters, I was Kathryn’s only visitor.


Parkinson’s Disease had caused permanent contortion of her limbs, stripping her of all autonomy. Severely hard of hearing, her only stimulation was observing whoever and whatever happened to come to her room. 


The first day we met, I wrote, What can I do for you?


Voice unsteady, she answered, “I want a sun catcher.” 


The next day, I arrived with a glass rainbow. That lonely sun catcher appeared out of place in the bland room, almost mocking the gravity of the situation. How underwhelming, I thought. At 21, I hadn’t lived enough to value small delights in the midst of despair.


It is guaranteed that every life will contain both grief and joy. Sometimes, one is so loud that we forget the other exists. Other times, they lie adjacent to one another, perhaps even overlapping. It can be the case that some things bring us comfort at the same time that many things bring us pain.


Often, in the middle of hopelessness, moments of beauty reveal themselves if we dare expand our field of vision. In other situations, we need to actively seek those glimpses of elusive light.  And then, there are seasons so bleak, we must take the initiative to purposefully insert them.


Will a sunrise negate severe illness? Does the sound of laughter erase loss? Of course not. However, if we stay open to noticing and creating beauty, we will likely find there is space for it even in deep sorrow.


Kathryn’s first sun catcher turned into many until her window was full. Most afternoons, flowers, mushrooms, hearts, diamonds, and ladybugs sprinkled her room with colorful flecks of sunshine.  Eventually, we expanded to glow-in-the dark stars and Christmas lights. The beauty was undeniable, even for brief moments, outshining the gloom.


When it became clear that Kathryn was in her final days, she had one last request. “I want a disco ball at my funeral.”


And so it was – a kaleidoscope of colors showering the casket. Yes, even in the thick of darkness, it is possible to make room for light.


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so beautiful. Just perfect.

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