How am I doing?
It’s a question I get asked a lot lately, and I’m never sure exactly how to respond. My husband died almost 6 months ago. Death of a spouse sits at the top of the list of stressful life events, and for good reason. My life right now is just incredibly difficult. I’m devastated. I’m grieving. I’m struggling. I’m suddenly responsible for all the household tasks that used to fall on his shoulders, in addition to my usual work. At the same time, I’m taking care of the additional tasks brought on by his death. Piles of paperwork, mostly. Confusing conversations with estate planners and government officials and financial advisors. Making the kinds of decisions I never, ever wanted to make. And of course, I’m trying to do all of these things while also managing my own overwhelming emotions surrounding this sudden and catastrophic loss. And I’m trying to guide my 6-year-old through her process of doing the same thing. I’m bracing myself for the next two months. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Dove’s birthday and our anniversary are all looming. What had been the most joyful and celebratory season is going to feel very different this year.
So, how am I doing? I am doing badly. I am just fundamentally not ok right now. I feel intensely vulnerable. My resilience is down to nothing. Unexpected events that would have seemed trivial before seem daunting and overwhelming. And I tend to get unreasonably angry at anyone who dares to try to help me feel better. To suggest that there’s any solution to this pain besides just sitting with it for however long it wants to sit with me. I don’t want solutions. I don’t want distractions. I don’t want to find ways to bring an end to the pain. I want to feel the pain. Every bit of it. My husband died. Being ok is really not my goal right now.
And so, I’m doing what I have to do. I am fiercely defending my boundaries, and putting my own mental health and my connection with my daughter above absolutely everything else. I am stalwartly refusing to add more to my life than I am ready for. I swing back and forth between feeling frustrated by a sense of a lack of productivity, service, and forward motion in my life, and the sense that if there’s one more painful surprise right now, I may actually collapse. So, I’m focusing on what matters. Rest – that matters a lot right now. I rest whenever I need to. In the end, resting a lot helps me towards more productivity. I say ‘no’ a lot, so I can say ‘yes’ to the things that will help me heal and move forward. I get regular therapy. I exercise. I spend time with close friends. I find the people who are willing to just nod and say “You’re not ok, and that’s ok” and I lean on them for the support that I need. I spend lots and lots of time playing and chatting with my kid. I’m taking care of today, each day, and trusting that tomorrow will take care of itself. In many ways, I am not ok right now. The life I’m living is nothing like the life I would have chosen for myself if I had been given an option about any of this. But I wasn’t given an option.
But here’s the thing: Even though I’m not ok, I have complete confidence that given time, I will be ok. Of this I have no doubt. I know this because after the sun sets at night, it rises in the morning, every single time. I know it because when the cold weather arrives and the plants all die, they leave behind seeds that will rise into new growth when spring thaws come. I know this because every single minute of every single day, I exhale, pause, and then inhale again. Life moves forward in its seasons – creation and destruction. Life and death. Light and dark. Joy and pain. That’s how it works. I don’t want to fix this. I don’t want to solve anything. I’m not making any attempt to get back to the life I was living before. That life is over now. The sun has set, the day is done. Things are dark and cold right now, and that’s fine. In time, the sun will rise again.
Sometimes, I am not ok. Sometimes, I am not full of creative energy and an attitude of outward-oriented service. Sometimes, all of my energy is taken up by the challenges my life is hitting me with right now. Sometimes, I swim with ease. But at other times, it takes every bit of energy I possess to just tread water, staying in one place to avoid going under. Death and grief and pain and not being ok are all valuable and important parts of the experience of this life. That’s where I am right now. And that’s ok with me.