This morning before work I dropped my daughter at school to catch the bus departing for 6th grade camp. As she flings her over stuffed backpack onto a pile of sleeping bags and runs off to braid hair and giggle about the bunk arrangements, I stand nearby with parents I haven’t seen in a year. Everyone in this small community, at one time or another, has come to our rescue with rides, food, support, friendship and love. Today, however, I wasn't ready to see them. Awkward hugs, mostly from me, and the occasional arm grip that compels an intense eye lock and, “how are you really doing?” My answer is the standard, “I’m good, we’re fine.” I’m certain that if they continue to stare for a moment more, they’ll see the pain behind my smiling eyes. Because deep within my soul, my heart hurts, I want to sit down in the spot I’m standing, put my head in my lap and say, “This is hard, so unbelievably, painfully hard and scary that I don’t know how I’m going to get through this day.” Instead, I answer with, “I’m okay”, in an effort to convince myself and those around me that it’s all going to be just fine.
The truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay. I will be a modified version of the self I once was. Sadly, the death of a husband or wife doesn’t end with a heartbreaking goodbye; that is, if you’re lucky enough to have one. The wake of what’s left after the death of your beloved, is daunting. Medical bills keep coming, children’s activities go on demanding your attention, work begins at 6:00am, and you realize, death has a lot of loose ends that need to be taken care of.
I know I’ve got to be the rock. I’ve got to be the 1:00am phone call my daughter makes when she’s stuck in an uncomfortable situation at a party 20 miles from home. Or the “fixer” when it’s discovered that volleyball shoes have been left under the bed and the tournament is an hour and a half north of San Diego. This is the stuff that makes memories, teaches lessons and lets kids know you’ve got their back in any situation. What they don’t see is Mom up until midnight stressing over bills and a budget that doesn’t have enough numbers, or too many. Waking at 5am each morning so that I can get to my desk in order to have time on the back end of my day to drive them, watch them, feed them and love them. And love them.
Technically we’re moving forward. But it sure feels like two steps forward, one giant step back.
I have friends - all of you fabulous, faithful friends who send texts when I'm at my lowest point. Deliver lasagna and my mail. Drive miles upon miles, and you're still driving! Friends near and far - you file and scan birth and death certificates, take care of my dogs, you listen, let me cry and prop me back up. But, as one of my closest friends put it, we can’t walk in your shoes. Believe me, if she could, she would. I know all of you would but... They can try them on, they can feel the toes pinch, walk a few blocks and then they have to take them off and give them back because they’re mine. So, regardless of how much people can let me lean, at some point I’ve got to stand. I’ve got to face down those tasks and painful jobs with a thin smile and set face. I’ve got to know it’s not perfect. It won’t be perfect, ever. That it’s enough to get through the day having completed one painful phone call, meeting, trip to the bank, or clearing paper’s off Bruce’s bureau.
Many have said, it’s alright, healthy in fact, to let your kids see you cry. Yes, sure, perhaps a couple times. To be honest, it’s not okay beyond that. What they need to see is one strong Momma that keeps her sh*%# together. They need to see that nothing is going to weaken their solid ground. To be fair, they’ve seen their rock solid dad diminish into a frail man that could barely talk and certainly didn’t have the strength to hug them goodbye. A waif of a man, that was once their father; in the end, he could only give their sweet, small hands a light squeeze and in the next breath he was gone. So, no, it’s not okay for them to see me cry. I can talk with them – I can talk about how hard it is without dad. I can try and soften the edges that have become so sharp from the last year of praying, begging, and weeping for a different outcome, but I cannot let them see me shed another tear.
I do not know how people get through the death of anyone, let alone a child. It’s with that thought that I am able to stand another day. Our girls are healthy, thriving children. Without them I’m certain I wouldn’t have the strength, drive or desire to keep going. If it were just me, I’d fade into the landscape of some far-off place that Bruce and I dreamed of traveling. One very good friend reminded me that Bruce made a beautiful life for us. Indeed, he did. We must live that life. Each day, we rise, we live it, we carry on the way he intended – It’s not easy, it’s not okay, but we’re still standing together.
So, when I’m asked how I’m doing, I answer with “okay” and for now, okay is good enough. I pray and hope my okay turns into great but I can’t imagine being in that place, at least not for a while. I want the girls to be more than okay. I want them to be great and I think they can be. With enough love, therapy and volleyball they will slowly make their way to a really good place. Charli will finish up her 6th grade year with academic honors, a hitter for her volleyball team and high expectations of a carefree summer with her friends. She’ll return to School of the Madeleine for her junior high school years. Because SOM completes at the 8th grade level, she’ll head to Point Loma High School after Mare graduates in two years. She'll follow in her sister's footsteps. Never shall the two sisters be in the same school at the same time. Over the next couple years Mare will be searching out colleges and deciding which direction her Kiwi heart will take her. In many ways she is searching for a connection to Bruce. She talks of joining the SDYC sailing program and maybe even trying out for the Point Loma sailing team. In so many ways she’s like her father – connected to the sea. She shares his love of the ocean, his ability to read the wind and waves and, I believe in my heart, that if the ocean is where she ends up, then that’s where she belongs – on the water with Bruce.
Yes - for now, our answer is, we're doing Okay.