Sometimes, when I’m out running errands, I tense up inside when people I know approach me. I start talking about things like the price of bananas or the unseasonably cool weather because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t get a conversation started.
“How are you doing?”
I know it’s a social courtesy and I know it comes from sincere concern, so I don’t blame them for asking, but it’s not a question I can answer easily. (And, absurdly enough, I always hear Kevin’s voice imitating Joey Tribbiani from Friends: How YOU doin’? Complete with sly wink and raised eyebrow. That still makes me smile.)
The truth is I don’t know how I’m doing. I mostly feel empty, disconnected from the life that is happening all around me, from birthday parties to back-to-school shopping. Every day, I am drifting farther away from the life I loved and shared with Kevin, floating toward some new life I’m supposed to create for my daughter and me without him. We’re in between worlds, trying, but nothing feels right without him.
What I do know is this: I’m not okay. I walk. I smile. My daughter makes me laugh because she’s seven and has an outrageous sense of humor. I can often give appropriate responses to words I barely hear through the grief that fills my heart. I buy groceries and mow the grass and cook supper and fold towels and feed the cat and clean the hamster cage and a hundred other little tasks that take up the time, that make up a day.
But I am not okay.
If I were, my daughter would not have to steal up silent to the bed and beg, “Mama, please stop crying. Can you fix me supper?” She would not have to glance sideways at tears streaming soundless down my face and lay aside her toys to wrap skinny arms solid around my neck and pour anxious words in my ear: “Mama, you’re so pretty. I love you, Mama.” She would not have to feel responsible for me, try to cheer me, coax me outside when she finds me lying in bed, muffling sobs with my pillow. It’s my job to be the responsible one. But some days, I feel totally inadequate to the task.
I want to be okay. I am trying so hard to keep it together and I think I do, most days. I want Kevin to be proud of how I’m handling things, how I’m raising our daughter, because I promised him we would be okay and I never broke a promise to him. Our daughter has never known anything but love and laughter and crazy adventures, even though cancer and chemo were always around. And it’s my job to make sure that continues, even though death took away our Daddy Bear, so I take her to the zoo and baseball games and the waterpark and I tell her stories about Daddy that make her laugh.
And I’m told I will be okay. Eventually. The grief counselor tells me it’s a long road, though, and it will be probably be very lonely and there are no guideposts. I’m on my own here, figuring out how not just to “be” in this life without my husband, but to be happy again and raise my daughter with the sense of love and security she deserves.
I see glimpses of happy, when my girl makes me laugh, when I remember Kevin’s sly, sparkle eyes: “How YOU doin’?” The joy flickers faint, curves away, fleeting, elusive…but it’s there.
So, I guess when I’m asked, I can answer the question like this: Actually, I’m not okay. But God is, and He is sustaining me because really, I can’t right now.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” Psalm 55:22