An involuntary cry caught in my throat as I watched the car I was following speed down the road while I braked to a sudden stop. The yellow light flickered to red and the car disappeared around a curve.
I heard my girl’s voice from the back seat. A little quaver, not panic. She’s gotten so good – too good – at picking up every tiny shift in my emotional barometer.
“Where did they go? Are we going to be lost now?”
I replied mechanically, the same words I’ve used over and over and over these last eighteen months in every situation that I’m unsure of: “We’re okay. We’ll be fine.”
A tear slid down my cheek. I hoped my oversized sunglasses hid it from my daughter’s eyes, peering at me from her backseat perch. It’s such stupid stuff that makes me cry these days. Random stuff. A missed phone call, a canceled get-together, a song playing in a store, a car leaving me behind at a stoplight. The wicked, crushing sobs of that first fresh grief no longer overwhelm me, but these smaller moments when tears sting my eyes unexpectedly are no less painful or powerful. I still can’t control the anguish when grief prickles and probes at the gaping black loneliness I feel without Kevin.
We’re okay. We’ll be fine. I think, I added.
I need Kevin, I thought a little hysterically, and another tear dripped off my chin and rolled down the seatbelt. I need Kevin and his maps. It was a little joke that every major car trip included him handing me a stack of pages printed from Mapquest. He drove and I navigated, pulling one map after another out of his carefully-prepared trip binder. Not that we didn’t still get turned around and off the beaten track a few times, computer and human error being unavoidable, but at least we had a map.
I didn’t have a map. Not for this road, and certainly not for this life.
I need Kevin.
The light finally turned green and I lurched forward, hitting the gas pedal too hard as I tried to catch up to the other car, tried to close the gap between us. Impossible. I felt trapped in a nightmare of those stupid word problems that confounded me in math class: If Car A is traveling x miles per hour and has a five minute head start, at what point will Car B, traveling y miles per hour catch up?
Answer: Never. The answer is never, never, never.
I will never catch up. Not on this physical road. Not on the metaphorical road. As much as I try to keep up with the other cars and people, and blend in with the traffic and activities, and just keep life going on, going forward, grief is like a yellow light flashing to red. It slows me down, forces me to stop, and life…well, it goes speeding by.
But as I’m stopped, waiting for my chance to get back on the road, to get going again, I realize what I told my daughter is true.
I don’t have to catch up. I can travel at the speed that works for me and we’re okay. We’ll be fine.
Because I do have maps. God wouldn’t leave me wandering.
When I’m sad and desperately missing my best friend, I think about Kevin and his maps. And then I hear God say, Find Joy — there’s some in every day if you look — and start there and then keep going. It will take you straight to Peace. The road twists a little, there are some sharp curves, and it might take a long time, but just keep going; you can’t miss it. I promise.
When I’m scared and lonely and need someone to talk to, I imagine God holding another map up to me. If you take Prayer, He says, that street right here, see? Well, just stay on it for a while, no stopping, and Comfort will be coming up soon.
Living with cancer is not an easy road. There are lots of dead-ends and Road Closed Ahead signs. Detours and No U-Turns Allowed are all over the place – even when all you want is to find the road that gets you back to the life you had before – the one without cancer. After a while, you accept the fact that the road you most want isn’t on any map you hold anymore. You have a new map, and new roads to travel, and you just have to figure out the best route to get through one of the toughest journeys in life. And we did it. We got turned around and lost sometimes, and Kevin being Kevin, maybe even tried a couple of illegal u-turns, but that never stopped us. We kept going and we managed to find the roads to Joy and Love and Happiness. God helped us, with an ear tender to our cries for help and the best guidebook ever written. And He’s helping me still.
Life is moving forward. That much I know is true. It’s still moving much too fast for me right now. Sometimes there will be people to follow, helping me find my way along this bumpy road, and sometimes I’ll get slowed down by grief and sadness and I’ll be on my own, navigating the hills and valleys by myself. When that happens, I’ll reach out for the travel binder, full of maps and love and memories, and I’ll just keep going. That’s the only way to get to the joy that’s waiting over the next hill. And there is joy over the next hill. That I know for sure is true. God promised it, Kevin’s living it, and I just have to keep believing I’ll find it.
“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking…then the Lord will be my God…’” (Genesis 28:20-21)