You look like you are doing great!
These words were uttered to me enthusiastically and cheerfully by the employee at the bank.
A complete stranger.
I had just sat down in her cubicle, my husband’s death certificate in hand, there to remove him from our bank accounts. She had spoken with me for all of two minutes before positively assessing my mental status.
She knew about my husband’s death before I ever sat down in her chair, before I ever met her. He was an employee of the same bank (not in the same office), and they had received an email she told me, so she was informed. A few moments later, she turned around to ask the gentleman in the glass cube behind her for help, explaining my situation with Her husband was the one in the car accident…the one we got the email about.
At least the man I’ve never met is up to speed on my life. Apparently everyone there knew my story because everyone got the email. I suppose it made for interesting conversation around the water cooler. And hey, the employee got to help the wife of the guy from the email so I’m sure that added something colorful to to her day. Maybe she would pass the word along about just how great I’m doing.
I glanced at my 7-year-old daughter, sitting in the chair next to me, completely absorbed in the game I was letting her play on my phone. My kids never play games on my phone. Two kids. One phone. That’s not good Mom math. But with my oldest at a friend’s house, my youngest was delighted to have the normally forbidden fruit to herself while Mommy conducted her boring bank business.
I shrugged and replied, I don’t really have a choice now do I? She smiled.
Did the email mention his two children I wondered? Did it tell everyone how devastated they are by the enormity of the irreparable hole left in their lives? Did it tell them that despite the fact they might be sitting happily playing a game on my phone, they are in fact completely broken inside?
I look like I’m doing great? Well that’s good news.
Just what exactly would I look like if I wasn’t doing great? What is it we think grief looks like?
Should I have arrived, glass-eyed, dragging a listless child behind me as I cried a thousand tears to the stranger at the bank? Should my voice have cracked and my chin quivered when I produced his death certificate? Should I have fainted, seemed lost, or been unable to speak when she asked me the various security questions needed to process my request? Should the room have echoed from the hollowed out, empty spaces in my soul?
For some, grief might very well look like this crumpled woman. But not for all of us. Not for me.
Not on the outside anyway.
I look in the mirror these days and I don’t see myself. I see a face staring back at me that resembles someone I used to know. But this person is new and two-dimensional and she seems to function independently of me.
I open my mouth and words come out. Most days, I don’t even know where they come from. But they make sense and people smile and nod, so those must be the right words and I’m thankful for whoever put those words in my mouth.
I am tired. Oh so tired. The kind of tired that isn’t remedied with sleep. But there is no rest regardless and whoever this new person is, she marches me along.
A puppet on a string.
I am lonely. So incredibly lonely. I ache for my best friend and for the future that no longer exists.
I am a mother who is conscious, every single moment, that her children’s eyes are on her. A woman who knows that she must be the rock for them to cling to in the worst storm of their lives, a storm that may occasionally subside, but that they will be riding out for eternity.
A mother who has to be the rock, no matter how much she wishes she could let the waves wash her away and drown her.
I guess I’m glad that I look like I’m doing great. Maybe that makes me easier to be around. Maybe if I were turned inside out for the world to see the pain pulsing inside me, well maybe then I would be held at arm’s length, like a contagion.
Instead, I function. I play the part that life has given me and I move forward. I move forward with steps that leave no prints because there is not enough of me left to make a mark.