For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a night owl.

As a child, I relished the long, quiet hours of night when I could get lost uninterrupted in a good book. Curled and cozied up in my bed, I’d transport to different times and faraway dream lands.

As a young adult, it was in the evenings when I’d meet up with friends after long days of work, internships and classes.

In the early days of motherhood, I’d be up all hours of the night nursing my sweet child. I would just savor the one-on-one time, dozing off in my rocker, breathing in the newness of my baby.

As my children were weaned, nights became mine again! I discovered I could be restored with a little self care and treasured the time to reconnect with my husband. Another bonus? Finally I could recapture some of what originally drew me to the night. I once again could lose myself uninterrupted in the pages of a good book AND one that wasn’t on the topic of parenting to boot!

Yet when my husband died, the onset of night captured in a sunset, took on a totally different meaning to me.

Symbolically sunsets mark the completion of a day, the passage of time.

In the early days after my husband died, a sunset marked the completion of the day alright…it now marked another day I had survived! It was always a miracle to me that I (we) could survive a day without my husband.

Grief is heavy.

Those early days, weeks, and months were hard and the days felt incredibly long. I struggled so much just to get through each day: to get up, to shower, to prepare some resemblance of meals, to tend to my children, to comfort others, to wrap up the endless unthinkable loose ends that come when a spouse dies.

There were days I wasn’t sure I had brushed my hair or eaten a meal. To do all the things in life that one usually does on autopilot suddenly required my utmost focus and intention. My mind was constantly somewhere else and it was a struggle. Sure I had moments of happiness and joy but in that first year, those moments were accompanied with a pervasive sadness. A consuming void of love lost.

A deep, engulfing void encompassed both day and night.

Now those sunsets became something I would dread as it would signal in yet the hardest and loneliest part of my day. I had survived the day as mommy and widow and now I had to be alone with myself. My coveted time of day had been robbed from me. Now I faced going to bed alone.  I found myself encapsulated in a quietness that drew me into my feelings, feelings I was afraid would overrun me.

I always was amazed how I could be so exhausted in every possible way, desperate to escape through a few hours of sleep, and yet sleep would elude me. So often I would just drop on my bathroom floor or front room couch in exhaustion and sob. My mind and heart so full of thoughts and feelings that they almost seemed blank. I remember those few steadfast friends who would faithfully text me every night. For them, I am eternally grateful. Whether I responded or not, it was their messages that felt like a pinhole of light to follow in the dark cave I was walking through.

A sunset is a remarkable demonstration of the beauty and reminder of life itself.

While nights can still be challenging, a sunset is no longer a thing I long to avoid. I now find myself  stopping, eager to catch its beauty. It has taken some time but now I see a sunset as an end to a day I’m thankful for no matter what difficulty the day held.

I’ve recaptured my love of dusk and find myself sneaking out to be alone in that magical hour. There is a peaceful sadness that I rest in but it’s mine and I love it. While some sunsets are more grand than others, all are unique and reminders of the beauty this world offers us. I am now thankful for those dark hours I used to dread because they forced me to think, to cry, to make plans, to release anger, to dream, to be grateful for what I once had and to find hope in the life still ahead of me.