“Are we still a family, Mama?”
Her question startled me. Tears welled in my eyes. I felt a hard pinch inside, twisting and tightening among the broken bits of my heart and I ached for my little girl trying to figure out if she still had a family. I couldn’t think of words fast enough and, in the silence, she pushed on.
“I mean, with Daddy gone, there’s just two of us and can that still be a family?”
I pulled her closer to me. I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s concerned about this; she likes to have things in order, have everything be clear and defined. And our lives right now are the epitome of unclear and barely defined. Of course she’s wondering what we are without Daddy. His death changed everything.
But it didn’t change this.
“We’re definitely still a family, Little Bear. I’m still Mama and Daddy’s still Daddy and you’re still you. We’re still our family. It’s just that Daddy lives in heaven and you and I still live here. So it feels smaller, but we’re still a family.”
“It doesn’t feel exactly right, does it?” I asked her, softly.
“Not really,” she admitted, even more softly, almost whispering.
My arms tightened around her and I pressed a kiss onto the top of her head and we sat there, the two of us in Kevin’s recliner, the place where we feel most like a family.
We can’t get used to Kevin being gone. It’s been a little over six months and I’m still waiting for him to catch up to us, still waiting for him to get home from work so we can pile in the Durango and head off on some adventure. Every time I load our suitcases for a weekend away, there’s too much space left in the cargo area. I look around for his duffel bag and pillow, trying to figure out why there’s so much emptiness. We walk across the church parking lot, her little hand holding mine, but how come Daddy’s not on the other side of her, swinging her arm wildly in his absent-minded hand-holding way? And what about our Family Group Hug, Bear scooped on my hip, our arms wrapped akimbo and her legs dangling, all squeezing together like some misshapen octopus? I scoop her up and hug her all the time, even more now because I’m giving her Daddy’s hugs, too, but it’s not the same as the warm crush of all three of us.
We don’t look like the family she’s used to seeing. And with Kevin gone, we don’t feel like the family she’s used to being.
So many moments just don’t happen anymore. We used to have supper at an actual table, sometimes the dining room, sometimes the kitchen. Now the two of us picnic on the floor in the front room and she thinks that’s great fun, but she doesn’t know it’s because I can’t stand the idea of eating a meal at our table without Kevin. I miss standing at the stove, yelling, “Hey, Family, I’m plating up! You two need to get water in glasses and napkins on the table!” And they’d bustle around the kitchen, ice clinking and drawers banging shut and it was noisy and happy and then we settled down to hold hands around our plates while Kevin said grace. Now the dining room is abandoned; sometimes we sit at a bistro table in the kitchen, but only because I moved the bigger kitchen table to the basement a few months after Kevin died – I felt like every bite of food caught in my throat, choking me as I stared across at his empty chair. The bistro table has two chairs, takes up less space, feels empty, and is completely indicative of everything I feel right now.
But we are still a family.
We’ll keep on doing our family things – travel and read and shop and play – because that’s what she knows and it keeps Kevin close to us, where we so desperately want and need him to be; it makes our small family seem complete again. There are shifts in our routines and nothing is exactly the same without him, but we just keep on doing the best we can because I know that’s what Kevin would want.
We are still a family.
But what I’ve come to realize, in some paradoxical shift, with Kevin’s death, our family has also grown. I don’t know all their names or their faces and I may never meet them or talk to them, but the Bear and I…we are now part of another family, one born of heartache and grief and loss. There’s a huge family of us out there, the ones left behind, and it helps to know we don’t grieve alone. We’ve all lost part of our family, and like Beary, we think and ponder and reflect and finally, finally ask because we have to know, we have to make this make sense:
“Are we still a family?
Everything is different, but this one thing is the same.
We are still a family.