Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sleep and the Raveled Sleeve of Care

Shakespeare said it best: "Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast." (from MacBeth)

Ahhhhh, sweet sleep. After three fitful nights spent with my Mom, serving as companion, sitter, and daughter, I finally sneaked in a night of more restful sleep last night. Yes, I was still there with Mom but she slept in her recliner and I laid myself out on her bed instead of the floor inside of a sleeping bag (such a misnomer; when was the last time you ever had a really good night's rest in a sleeping bag?) She drifted off around 8:15 PM and I wasn't far behind. She had a good night overall and even though we began the day at 5:30 AM, I added much needed sleep into the depleted account. Tonight I'll catch up even more as I'll be in my own bed at home.

Whenever I'd get over wrought, stressed and tired, Mom always quoted Shakespeare and told me that sleep (always), sweet sleep would "knit up the raveled sleeve of care". As a youngster and young adult, I never really understood what she was saying. After many nights that turned into 36 hour plus "on call" shifts as a medical resident in training and sleepless nights with my children as infants, I began to understand.

That raveled sleeve with its gorgeous pattern of continuous looping threads, damaged by the constant tugging of care in all its forms, is woven back into health by the restorative powers of precious and essential sleep. I enjoy the image, the metaphor of the raveled sleeve as life's rugged and powerful potential eats away at our serenity and balance. But sleep brings back our greatness, "as chief nourisher in life's feast".

These are difficult days for my siblings and me. We face new decisions, new twists and turns, and heartache as we do our best to care for our parents. Nothing is clear; there seem to be no good choices, just an array of options that have no guarantee of success. We do the best we can.

For now, I need to step back, accept that the sleeve of my life is severely raveled and ask sleep to work its miracle of re-weaving. For if not, I will see nothing but darkness.


  1. What a beautiful quote...and I particularly like "the death of each day's life." Some nights I long for sleep so the day can end and a new day can begin at night's end. There is a painful break in that cycle when sleep doesn't come because "sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care" of others, ourselves....

    This is a beautifully written post.

  2. Beautiful writing. I agree with Sharon that it's a beautiful quote, but I also admire how you expand upon it.

    Your description reminds me of my trip with my own mom earlier this fall, moving her up north, getting her settled.

    Although - I love that your mom quoted Shakespeare to you. My mom was much more reserved and held to herself. She has a hard time connecting with other human beings - always has. She can be a stitch, though, quite funny and fun to talk with.

    Today Mom had hip replacement surgery. I haven't yet heard from The Brothers how it all went, but I am expecting it went well. Crossing my fingers. If it helps her pain, I will be so grateful.

  3. Very good 'piece of words' to remember. I get far too little sleep and am off to bed right now after quite a day and a bit of irregular heartbeat.

  4. This may be one of my favorites of your posts, Kate. Gorgeous writing. Images that stay. I also love that your mom quoted Shakespeare to you. And how very true it is...sleep can do many things, not the least of which is bringing sanity back when it's been on the edge.

  5. I hope it adds to your imaging to know that the original word was sleave, an archaic word for "skein."

    So what sleep is doing is knitting, or making more settled, that which care has raveled in the course of the day.

    (This worked well for me since I recently discussed Shakespeare's social-media advice on my blog.)

  6. I just googled "raveled sleeve of care" to find the whole quote so I could send it to my emotionally exhausted sister. Your blog came up near the top, and now I've found a new source of insight on many topics that hit close to home. I love the internet! And, thank you for sharing your experiences.


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