Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Colorado Blue Moon, 2013. (All photos by Marylin Warner.)

Picture of "Starry Night" by van Gogh, 1889.

Picture of “Starry Night” by van Gogh, 1889.

Dear Mom,

It was during the night, very late, and the only sound was rain tapping on my bedroom window. I woke up, not because of the rain, but because my leg hurt. When I reached under the sheet, I touched something warm and sticky, and it burned.

I was nine years old, and when I turned on the bedside lamp, I saw the blood.

This would be a cute place to say, Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!  But there was nothing cute about my leg…or my panic. I called out to you.

You took me into the bathroom and carefully cleaned the front of my calf. As you put medicine and band-aids on the wound, you told me a story.

It was about a mother who heard the front door of the house slowly open in the middle of the night. She jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to make sure her daughter was all right, but it was her daughter who had opened the door. The girl walked outside, went down the porch steps, out onto the lawn in her nightgown. She began wandering around, doing a little dance around the trees and plants. She was sleepwalking.

The mother watched to be sure the girl didn’t wander away or go out into the street, but she didn’t want to wake her because she had heard that to wake a sleepwalker could cause more problems than it solved.  Also, though, the mother and her daughter were both sleep talkers, and they were both good people, so the mother didn’t worry too much about the girl sleepwalking.

She silently watched her daughter until lightning crackled in the distance and it began to rain. She softly called out that it was time to come in now. For a minute or so the girl continued to sway in the rain, lifting her face to the splatters. Then she made her way back to the porch. She fell going up the concrete steps, but she didn’t awaken. She got up, walked into the house, into her bedroom and got into her bed. The mother took a Christmas bell from the hall closet and hung it on the door knob of the front door, just in case.

I think of that night now, Mom. You were there for me, calm and unflappable. Reassuring. There were other times I walked in my sleep after that, but it was inside the house, and several times the sound of a Christmas bell ringing on the front door knob woke me. We both continued to talk in our sleep.

Mom, you’re ninety-five years old now, and it’s my turn to be your calm, reassuring presence when I’m visiting you. During the night when you whisper to Grandma or Dad or one of your siblings who’ve all gone on ahead, I listen from the hall and wait. When you finish you will often get out of bed and walk to the bathroom or wander around your apartment, and usually you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing.  Just to be safe, I hang bells from the knob of your apartment’s front door in case you try to wander too far.

As you once told me, we’re both sleep talkers and we’re good people.  Plus, we’re family, and that says it all.

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”  ~Mother Teresa

My mom and her siblings.  (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, "Keepers of Memories"

My mom and her siblings. (l to r) Sam (father of my cousin Sandee); Ira (father of Beth and Glee); Mary Elizabeth, my mother; Wanda (mother of Karen); and Ruth LaVonne; (for current pictures of the girl cousins, go to the post, “Keepers of the Memories”)

Abilene, Kansas' Old Town in the evening.

Abilene, Kansas’ Old Town in the evening.


Filed under art, autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Spiritual connections, Things to be thankful for

75 responses to “DANCING IN THE DARK

  1. juliabarrett

    Marylin, you’re putting this all in a book, right? Because if you don’t these beautiful words will go to waste.
    I love your mother.
    Do you know what’s so very interesting about the photo of your mother and her siblings? They were smiling. Nobody smiled in photos back in those days!

    • As the cousins were going through pictures together, we can across several sibling group shots where no one was smiling, but you’re right, Julia, usually they were happy together.
      But if you look at many group shots with young women from that time period…well, let’s just say it’s a study in characters struggling with anger and resignation. The late 1800s and early 1900s weren’t a time of opportunity or adventure or power for women.

  2. Marti

    So poignant; so beautiful! Thank-you for this post, Marylin!

  3. molly

    Well, it is official then…Gannon is definitely YOUR grandson. He sleep walks and talks all the time. Grace “purrs” on her sleep, but that’s still something! I remember hearing this story…and I always wondered why Grandma didnt clean and bandage your knee begore she went back to bed! Well, I really hope that the conversations she has with Grandpa and her parents and siblings are good conversation for her, I am sure that is a piece of what keeps hef so calm now-a-days!

    Wonderful story…ad ALWAYS!

    • Thanks, sweetie.
      Actually, Grandma saw me fall on the steps, but in the dark she didn’t see the long scrape and cut. It was on the front of my calf, and even now there’s an indentation in the bone. I don’t remember going to the doctor about it; your grandmother was very good at treating wounds!
      YES, Gannon! The sleepwalking tradition continues…and we’re really good people, too!

  4. This is a magical post Marylin – I can imagine you in the night with the bell and it’s so moving that it has now come full circle.

    • It definitely has come full circle, Andrea. The longer I live, the more amazed by how much of life does come full circle, especially now with my mother’s dementia, when we trade places and I’m more like the mother instead of the daughter.

  5. Beautiful and loving….I loved the bell part too. For a very short while, I guessed I sleepwalked…not sure why. My mother was snappish about it, woke me up standing out in the front yard. Scary…wondered why I was there. I don’t think there was much walking after that. Your mom’s approach was certainly more gentle. 🙂

  6. Your post headline caught me.:) Lovely post…I enjoyed hearing how supportive your mom was of you…I know how supportive you are of her now. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

    We are settling into our new home…New Hampshire has been very good to us, weather-wise. Sunny warm days for the most part…but I know that an icy cold winter is around the corner. We are loving being so close with our daughter and grandson…his first attempts at writing cover our fridge.:)

    Susanna Hill had a Halloweensie writing contest and the link up of entries (over 75) are up on her blog: http://susannahill.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-3rd-annual-halloweensie-contest.html
    with the finalists being announced tomorrow…and voting will open. You can find my entry here: http://viviankirkfield.com/2013/10/28/halloween-dance-party-countdown-the-halloweensie-contest/

    I apologize for putting links up here, Marylin, but I know, as a writer, you will totally love to scroll through some of those entries…so much creativity.:)

    • Actually, Claudia, I’m no sure but I think that as children, my mom and at least one of her siblings were sleepwalkers. When I was nine, Mom made me feel like it was nothing to worry about, just one of those things. Later I heard from friends how their mothers reacted when someone sleepwalked, and I think there was some superstition about having one foot in this world, and one in the next, so people wanted to “break” the sleepwalker’s habit.

    • Thanks, Carol. Somehow, I suspected this would be your kind of story!

  7. Love the way you use bells to keep the sleepwalker safe. And that you and your mother treat/ed sleepwalking in such a natural, loving way.

  8. All I had to do was see Starry Night and I was smiling. Lovely post, as always, Marylin!


  9. My Mom and my Grammy were also calm under pressure. It’s a wonderful quality to inherit, Marilyn. In an emergency, that calming reassurance is vital. Thank goodness your Mom had the presence of mind to ease your fears. That Christmas bell is just the right touch. It does provide peace of mind. Blessings to you for being a loving presence when your Mom needs comfort.

  10. Dear Marylin, it goes without saying ho much I enjoy your stories, There’s such elegance there and everything carries the undertones of love.I was a sleepwalker and still am a sleeptalker sometimes. I can’t remember how my mother treated it but I do know it was gently as I don’t recall being shaken awake as I heard others were.
    I send Huge Hugs to you, your Mom and all the loving clan. xxxx

    • I’m glad to know I’m in good company, David, and that your mother was like mine and treated it gently. Unfortunately, there are many harsh and sad stories about how some children were “broken” of sleepwalking. Huge hugs back to you, David!

  11. Marylin, such a beautiful story. I loved the dancing/swaying in the moonlight part. We are spiritual beings after all, living a human life. xo

    • We definitely are spiritual beings after all, Joanne. I’m glad you connected to the dancing/swaying in the moonlight. My mother described it beautifully when she told me about it, and with such grace that I could almost remember it myself.

  12. Oh, this was so beautifully allegorical, Marylin and reminded me so much of my Dad, who for his last few years, and afflicted the same way as your dear Mom, was definitely dancing in the dark. He lived in a wonderfully caring residential home and seemed happy in his world there when we visited, which was often, yet he never referred to ‘home’ or any of his past life, except in briefest of moments of pure clarity – and then he’d be back in the dark.
    There is nothing more important than family at times like these.

    • Absolutely, Jenny. Like your dad, my mom is comfortable and content, but this is not truly “home.” And her only real memories now of “home” are of growing up on the farm with her parents and siblings. So when she does talk, it’s about those memories. I can fill in parallels of activities then with some now and she’ll nod and smile, but I don’t know that she makes the connection.

  13. Another wonderful memory – yes, definitely book material. Thank you Marylin xx

  14. A beautiful post. I can feel the calmness in your mother and I feel your love for her shining through and that you have inherited that calmness.

  15. Don

    Your post, Marylin is just so beautifully filled with tenderness. While reading that story I couldn’t help thinking about how we kind of sleepwalk through life and our hope that there’s something bigger than us watching as we do this. There’s a great parabolic truth here. That bell for me is also deeply symbolic.

    • You always summarize it so well, Don. Something bigger than ourselves watching over us as we stumble and sleepwalk through life. I love it! (Think of all the words I could have saved if I’d talked to you earlier!)
      The bells are symbolic to me, too, the one she used on the door when I was growing up, and the one I put on her door now.
      Thanks, Don.

  16. Simply amazing! The tenderness and love come through so clearly. In addition to your presence, the bells must be wonderfully reassuring to your mother. There’s so much about communication that is non-verbal, especially when we move into the realm of sickness, which is itself a kind of dream, I think.

    • You’re so right, Tracy. In addition to the dementia, my mother is hard of hearing now, but I hope she hears the bells. And through the years, I’ve added more bells in my life, too.

  17. Everything wonderful I wanted to say has already been said in other peoples’ comments. Let me just reiterate how much I learn about love and family by reading your posts. Absolutely beautiful!

    • Thank you, Karen. For me, writing this weekly blog about my mother re-teaches me about love and family. I already know it’s there, but remembering individual scenes with my mom clarifies it for me.

  18. I liked the story about the girl dancing in the dark, I think that was a great way to deflect your concern about the bloody calf. Did you ever figure out how it came about? I like the way you listen for your mother’s whisperings. Good idea about the safe guard of the bells on the door, too! It is so interesting how family stories get passed down and you are a great story teller!

    • Oh, thank you so much. Story telling was part of my personality from the time I was four. My mother spent a great deal of time helping me learn the difference between real stories and made-up stories, and she did it without stomping on my creativity.
      You know, I still don’t know what brought on my “dancing in the dark,” but I did continue to sleepwalk in the house off and on, but not outside…at least I don’t think so.

  19. Janet Armstrong

    A beautiful story of your mom’s love for you.

    • Thanks, Janet. Each month when I visit mom, I miss your mother’s smiling face and greeting that used to meet me when I walked into Pres. Village. We’ll have to talk, Janet. Would you want to do a guest blog about your mother and a memory growing up in Fort Scott?

      • Janet Armstrong

        Thanks for asking me to write about my mom. I can not put into words what my mom meant to me. Your writings are such a tribute to your mother.

  20. You are your mother’s daughter, Marylin…beautiful, inside and out. This post warmed my heart on a chilly autumn day, thank you. xo

  21. Marylin, what a beautiful and heartwarming story. And I also enjoy viewing your family photos. 🙂

  22. So beautiful, this circle of caring.

  23. Marylin, you always touch my heart.

    • I’m so glad, Deb. I will always remember your gentle, honest reminder about the bully my mother had to stop with her broom. “He wasn’t born a bully.” I can’t stop thinking about that.

  24. Beautiful post Marylin.

  25. Oh Marylin, this made me cry, the beauty of your words as the love for your mothers shines through, and the love she has for you and your oh so powerful, emotive family memories. What a beautiful, gentle piece.

    Reading about your mother calling out for her siblings and parents reminds me of my husband’s mother who died last year at the age of 87. She had asked that her ashes be scattered in the field by the cottage where she grew up as a young girl as one of 9 siblings. Her father was a farm labourer and she worked away all week in service for a nearby family. She raised her own family of 5, my husband, three older sisters and a younger down syndrome brother who also sadly died last year at the age of 50 just two months after losing his mother who had looked after him all his life. Yet, it was with her birth family that she wanted to return home to at the very end, to the place where she said she was the happiest.

    • What a strong and beautiful story, Sherri. You could write a memoir of the ashes being spread over the field by the cottage–what an image!–and how the son with Down’s Syndrome followed his beloved mother soon after. Your mother’s love for her family is especially touching because it endured and grew during a lifetime of hard work and difficulties.
      Your writing style comes through loud and clear, and it’s wonderful.

      • Your encouragment of my writing never fails to bless me so much Marylin and I do thank you so very much. I feel honoured that you visit my blog so often and enjoy reading my posts, just as I do here reading yours – they never fail to move me.

        I have talked to my husband often about writing about his family and yes, this would be a strong story to tell, no doubt about that. Something to build on definitely 🙂

      • I’m not sure, Sherri, but I think it was Tolstoy who said that if we can remember the first six years of our lives, we’ll have writing material for the rest of our lives. For me it would have to be the first nine years and include the sleepwalking.

        I’m glad you talked to your husband first. One of my writing friends fictionalized a very sensitive story about her sister-in-law’s family feud. She hadn’t asked permission (and writers don’t actually have to ask permission to write fictionalized stories) but her mistake was that she merely changed names but left very specific, horrific details. That was years ago, and her sister-in-law, and pretty much the writer’s brother, too, have ignored her. It’s a fascinating story, and with a little help she could have imitated the essence without divulging the real people.

      • I never heard that before Marylin, that is so interesting, thank you for sharing that.

        Goodness, you’ve got me thinking. I feel like my life has been divided up into so many parts – the first 10 years of my life with my mum, dad and brother and then when my life was ripped apart, suddenly and drastically when my mum left my dad and we moved hundreds of miles away.

        My first article which was published in Prima was about my experiences of growing up with an alcoholic dad but when were an ‘intact’ family I was at my happiest and I have very strong memories from my early years, so this really makes a lot of sense to me too!

        Yes, I can see how that would have been a very difficult situation with your writing friend. It certainly is a sticky issue when writing about other people and how very sad for all concerned.

        Many thanks for the great advice, as always.

      • Oh, Sherri, the deeper you dive into the writing pond, the more amazing stories you will hear.
        I keep thinking about your mother’s ashes…and her son who died soon after the death of the mother who had cared for him all his life. Now THAT will make a a beautiful, compelling story, much more than the examples of the family feuds that escalate against the writer who tells the story.
        You could write about any of your memories of growing up, moving around, struggling to work things out. Sherri, you have a wonderful honesty, a natural directness in your story telling!

  26. What a beautiful story. I was a sleep-walker too. I believe mum and dad used to just quietly say, ‘time to go back to bed now’ and I would find my way back. I don’t think I ever attempted to leave the house. I do remember, when I was 13, waking up a bit confused on a sleeper train from Paris to Lyon, I couldn’t find my bunk. I must have gotten out of bed and walked about for a while in my sleep before waking up.
    The dancing under the moon and stars was a lovely image and Vincent’s starry night fits so well.

    • Rod, I’m glad you didn’t try to get off the train!
      I think I “remember” all the details so vividly is because my mother calmly, clearly, vividly described what she watched–the smell and feel of the rain whipping through tree branches, the image of me reaching for stars hidden by storm clouds–and from that my mind said, yes, I probably remember that.
      But I know for sure I actually recalled the fall on the concrete steps of the front porch. Mom didn’t see the long scrape against my leg because it was dark, but I remember the hard scratching against my hands as I tried to block the fall, and the ragged scraping jag on my leg.
      Sleepwalking really is a type of amnesia.

  27. What a beautiful story. Wow. I’ve been a sleepwalker under stress and it’s always weird where you end up. It’s so good that you and your mom are able to watch out for each other over the years. 🙂

    • Welcome, Kourtney!
      As one sleepwalker to another, I know how weird it is to end up where you don’t remember going. Amnesia with feet.
      Now, when I visit my mom in Kansas each month, if someone has taken the bells off the doorknob to her assisted living apartment, I immediately dig in the closet to get the bells out and put them back. Bells are our early warning system.

  28. Love the way your mom tenderly handled your sleepwalking episode Marylin. I used to talk in my sleep, and my little sister used to walk in her sleep. Your post brings back wonderful memories of growing up in a close-knit family that supports and nurtures each other. Thank you 😉

    • I’m glad you’re sharing this. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking that sleep talking and sleepwalking are more normal and less suspicious than they’ve been made out to be. And I especially like your line about “…wonderful memories of growing up in a close-knit family that supports and nurtures each other.” Bravo! We both have those memories!

  29. Dear Marylin, This is my favorite so far, so moving! All your posts are excellent. What treasures.

  30. Your post made me cry. Your writing is so beautiful and so encouraging. The love you have is so evident. Blessings upon you.

  31. L. Marie, your recent post about “safe places” was a poignant reminder of how my mother was my calm, reassuring, strong “safe place” for me when I was growing up.
    For more special and helpful information for writers, readers and everyone, go to L. Marie’s recent post: http://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/safe-spaces/comment-page-1/#comment-3393

  32. Jim

    Very mysterious little story, Missy Marylin! Had me going. I think sleepwalkers in general get a bad rap that might go all the way back to Lady Macbeth’s infamous sleepwalking scene, “Out . . . Out damn spot. Out I say!”

  33. Thanks, honey, but you already knew I’d been a sleepwalker…and now I still sometimes talk in my sleep. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to say and do everything!

  34. Diana Stevan

    Having been away, just catching up with this one, Marylin. Boy, what a night you had. I’m so impressed with the way your mother handled your sleepwalking and injury. To be able to think on the spot, like your mother did, and as you say, she was unflappable, that truly is a wonderful quality. I’ve never known someone who sleepwalks, so thanks for sharing. It’s an adventure, I’m sure.

    • I’m glad you’re back, Diana!
      Sleepwalking is strange; I’m not sure if I actually remember it, or if I kind of remember it because my mother described it well and answered all my questions about that night. I do remember nights after that when I would wake up inside the house, in some room, and wonder how I got there, and once I woke up as I was sitting at the table and writing on a piece of paper, but the writing was illegible.
      My mother did handle it very well, which is why I think it eventually stopped.

  35. I reread this today and still feel it is such a well written story of love and sweet understanding. Your mother watched you to make sure you were safe and finally, due to the rain, softly called you in. The sign that it really happened was evident but the memory not so sure of. I think this is well told, Marylin and I enjoyed it again.

  36. willowmarie

    this is so touching- a moment that will move the heart of every reader (mine included). Thank u.

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