“Have you lost your husband?” I had that question asked yesterday by a complete stranger. It was while visiting a home show, four pavilions with an endless supply of home building and improvement vendors. I was walking around by myself remembering the days my husband and I use to enjoy perusing the booths and dreaming of home renovation plans. Having no idea, we did a major renovation on our home just before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We had been seriously planning that renovation for two years. We had been dreaming long before that so I am no home show rookie. I was lost in thought, gazing into each booth yet not stopping at any. A gentleman noticed me, came from his booth, smiled and said, “Have you lost your husband?” Of course, he meant I maybe couldn’t find him among the vast display of vendors. However, as it turns out he asked a me, a widow. That simple question hit so much harder for me than the average woman. It triggered my deep grief but I couldn’t blame him…after all there are not many widows my age in our city of one hundred thousand people, so it’s not something on people’s radar. I had no idea how to respond.
The things people say can be so hard to hear sometimes. In reflecting on this moment later I remembered another time another stranger had hard words for me to hear too. It was a few months after Chad passed away that a lady working a retail counter asked the typical question of, “How are you today?” I responded with my typical answer at that time of, “OK”. She looked at me and said, “only ok? Why are you only ok?” At that time my devastation was so fresh I couldn’t even say the words to myself let alone a stranger. Telling people out loud that my husband had died made it too real and knocked the breath out of my lungs. How could I possibly explain the pool of grief that was drowning me? I became hot and sweaty, light headed and I thought I may even faint or vomit, but instead I just ignored her and then I became mad at her for asking.
I became mad that I got asked several times every day how I am. Mad that the service and retail worlds always ask everyone how they are doing. I couldn’t even get a coffee at a drive through without being asked how I was. It’s also the opening sentence to every conversation and yet no one really wants to know about the wounded souls some of us are currently carrying. I’ve had other very insensitive things said over the years, such as “divorce is harder”, “you’re lucky to have had what you did”, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”, and “you need to move on”.
I don’t get mad anymore. Twenty-eight months later I still notice the question each day, “How are you?” but can respond with “good” (even if it’s not true). This makes everyone more comfortable. When I hear insensitive comments, I have learned to know people’s hearts are wanting the best for me regardless of some of the things they say.
Deep grief is uncomfortable for many and although it certainly isn’t my job to make anyone else feel more comfortable with my grief, I can give them the grace they need in not knowing how to relate to this part of my life. I can be thankful for them that they don’t know. They don’t understand the two sides of me which exist in perfect unison. I now can smile, laugh, work and make new great memories with the people I love and care about. None of that ever changes the fact that I am also still deeply devastated and broken that Chad isn’t here.
Enjoying the new adventures of this life never changes that fact that I am thinking about Chad every moment. We miss him more than I can ever say. I have learned how to keep my deep grief locked inside my heart. I only let it out when I have the time, energy and resources to feel it. It’s still there just as it was 28 months ago however the “face” I need to show the world doesn’t allow people to notice my devastation anymore – and that’s a good thing! I have healed enough to be able hold those emotions sacred in my heart and choose to live a full life here on earth.
Living is a choice, each day. I can not allow myself to stay lost in my deep grief. I choose to not only live but thrive in the life I still have. This isn’t easy and some days I simply don’t want to be okay but I choose to let God whisper in my soul. He is holding me and my kids. That He won’t let this destroy us if I keep trusting Him and leaning on Him. The desperate tears still happen. There still are days when the ache for Chad literally takes my breath away. In these moments I hit the floor with feelings of never being okay. I have come to realize though that these feelings don’t last forever and I always get back up, feeling better later and able to enjoy life. I continue to plan adventures for my kids and I, we have deep conversations and find ways to be glad that we are still here. We remember Dad is alive in heaven so we will see him again one day. I know Chad is proud of us!