Most people on the periphery assume we are strong because they see us doing life. They see us on our driveways. They watch us get into our vehicles as we are on our way to participate in the stuff of living. Yes, we are doing things. They are witness to it. And, the assumption is that we’ve got this. And, maybe part of us does have this. But, there is also a big part of us that is just not okay. At best, we are “okayish” which leaves room for improvement.
In our new life, we participate in activities and half-heartedly go through the motions because after a while, despite our brokenness, we must return to our responsibilities. On ordinary days, I frantically multitask because where there was once two people adulting, now there is only one. Without choice, I now bear the full weight of life in suburbia.
Like many of you reading this, I continue to: raise children, maintain my career, pay my mortgage, plan holidays, unclog drains, and even liberally apply moss killer to the lawn. I pay my bills online while I sit in my car waiting for my son to finish his haircut. I renew house insurance, attend graduations, get routine oil changes on my vehicle, and take my kid to the orthodontist. I stand in line waiting for shaved ham at the deli counter. And, then I lovingly pack this ham into bagged lunches. And, on most days, while doing all this, I attempt to comb my hair into a style that doesn’t resemble frazzled.
Widowed people do this stuff.
All of it.
Every last thing.
We fall back into the mundane rhythm of an ordinary life.
Except our new existence is far from ordinary.
We diligently do all the things life requires of us.
But, now, there is a distinct hollowness to it.
Every single day we make something hard look easy.
But, the truth is complicated and this alternate life is far from easy. Our lives are far different than what those in our proximity imagine them to be. And, this is likely the case for everyone; but, it is especially true in the bereaved community.
My neighbours do not see me sobbing in bed at 3:00am because I need him to be alive. Although, there is a good chance they have hear me crying on the back deck; but if they have they’ve never mentioned it. Aside from the tears that still stain my cheeks on occasion and the faint whimpering from my backyard I appear to be strong. But, what most people don’t know is that strong means being slumped on the floor, leaning against the wall, clutching my shattered heart while hot tears fall from my eyes.
Strong means rocking myself in time with the ticking of the clock.
Too many nights, this familiar clock has provided the only sound,
Besides my cries, in my big, empty house.
Strong means being ravaged by the emptiness of the night and waking up the next morning,
Splashing cold water on my face,
And, then, masquerading around like everything is “fine”
So that my kids don’t think I’m coming undone.
Strong also means holding space for my grief.
Strong means standing alone in the emptiness.
Strong means crying on your way to work.
Strong means sitting in the parking lot,
Using your sleeve to wipe the tears from your eyes.
My first day of widowhood, strong meant surviving until later that night when an ambulance was called because I couldn’t breathe or hear the words of those who held me in my brokenness. Strong meant sitting in a tiny hospital room throwing up into cheap cardboard bowls for hours because my mind could not comprehend what the hell was happening. Strong meant asking people again and again “is this real?” And, desperately waiting for them to answer me; but they never did because they were scared I might die from the truth. Strong meant being so disoriented by his death that I couldn’t see straight.
As the days rolled into weeks, and then became months, strong continued to mean different things. Things that I never previously associated with being strong. I learned that strong means laying on the cold, hard kitchen floor crying for three months straight. I discovered that strong means sobbing silently while I cook my sons dinner every night for a year.
Strong is a lot of things.
Strong is learning to hide my tears behind sunglasses at the grocery store.
Strong is getting up everyday to repeat a life that is nothing like the one I imagined.
Strong is making homespun, amateur attempts at creating a new life,
When all I want is my old life back.
All the well meaning people who accuse me of being strong did not witness me on my hands and knees begging God to bring Mike back night after night for months. So, yes, I KNOW I am “strong” because I survived this and then some. Mike’s death brought me to my knees and standing up again takes super human strength and one strong-ish person. I know this too well.