I entered the church building yesterday for the first time since the funeral: to test it out, to see what it would feel like, to know whether I can actually go back to work next week as I have planned. On the one hand, it felt bad to be there, partly because everyone looked so shocked and uncomfortable when I walked in, partly because there were funeral things sitting in my office that I’d forgotten about. On the other hand, it didn’t feel any worse to be at church than any of the other places in this town that are full of Marrett memories.
So, I’ll be back to work Tuesday morning. I need something to do other than Marrett stuff. I need to figure out what is possible on this side of his death, and what is not. I know it is the right thing, but I am dreading it.
And that dread is mostly related to one question. THE question.
“How are you doing?”
I know people are going to ask it, because I can’t count the number of times I’ve already been asked. And every time, that question paralyzes me. What am I supposed to say? How actually am I doing right now? If I tell the truth, am I going to scare people? And if I do scare them, will I then feel responsible for taking care of their fear? (The pastor instinct is deeply ingrained.)
In an effort to prepare myself for that question, and perhaps to prepare you for the answers I may give, I’m going to say how I am, as honestly as I can. And then I’m going to suggest some other things you might ask me instead if you don’t like the answers below!
I am heartbroken. In a way that is a literal ache in my chest some days, my heart hurts. Because I’ve lost the love that proved God’s redemptive power to me when I first didn’t believe it, I’m not confident my heart will ever work properly again.
I am angry. At the unfairness of this loss, at the secret things that make me doubt the life I had with Marrett, at my own choices in our life together. I am angry some days at every couple I see holding hands or laughing together, at every father being good to their child. I am angry that there is such a mess left by M’s death, and that I am left to clean it up on my own.
I am exhausted. As most mothers of two years old are, I thought I was tired before he died. But that was a fraction of the weariness I feel now. The weariness of grief makes every tasks like feeding yourself, and getting the kids to daycare and camp every day feel like gargantuan achievements.
I am hopeless. This one is dangerous, I know, but I said I would be honest. I am in survival mode, which is one hour, one day, one weekend at a time. Any time I try to look beyond now, I see nothing except fear. The future that I had planned with M is gone, and I cannot yet imagine anything other than this grief, because I know it will go on for the foreseeable future. I am afraid.
In the funny-because-they’re-true words of Nora McInerny, I’m “terrible, thanks for asking”. (Seriously, if you have ever experienced something awful in your life, you need to know about Nora. She’s my new role model.) I know this is not the answer that people want to hear, but it’s true. I’m terrible, not good, dying a little more every day. I’m a mess.
So, what can you say when you see me? Especially if you’re really just asking THE question to show that care about me? Well, when I walked into church yesterday, Christine (the office person) said two things that felt just right. “It’s so good to see you.” Then when I was leaving, she said, “It’s really good to have you back here.”
Or you could say what so many cards and emails and messages are saying: “We’re thinking of you/praying for you/sending you love and light every day.” Or if you’re someone who’s comfortable with this kind of thing, you could just say “I love you.”
Or ask me how the kids are doing. I’m much happier to talk about them than myself these days. Just be prepared for a long answer, because each of the five are experiencing this completely differently.
And while we’re here, can I just ask a couple more things from you?
- Don’t assume that I need a hug. I generally don’t like to hug people who are not my close friends and family. If you need to hug me, for your own well-being, just say that, and I’ll indulge you if I can.
- Forgive me in advance for the rude things I will surely say on days when I don’t have the energy to filter myself. I promise to forgive you when you say dumb things too.
- Finally, though engaging this grief isn’t optional for me, it is for you. It’s totally okay if you want to pretend like everything is like it always was, if you just can’t go there with me. Sometimes pretending is a welcome relief to me too. Opt out, by all means. It’s what I’d do most days if I could.