I do my best to balance on the heels of my blue suede pumps as a hazy and delicious IPA sloshes around in the mason jar I cling to with both hands and I answer one of my least favorite questions… “So…how are you?”
Tonight, I don’t mind that she asked me this question, and I take a moment, staring thoughtfully into the distance as I try to convey in words just how I really am, 18 months after Lea’s death.
I feel my eyes narrowing as I tell her about my anger. I tell her I feel like I want to punch someone, or kick something or break something. I have so much anger….
You have every f*ing right to be angry she tells me as I am yanked from the image of me shattering the contents of a china cabinet as I scream like a madwoman… or like a mother mourning the loss of her child.
I tell her I know, but this anger is not serving me. I don’t like the ways I am showing up. I don’t like the way my anger makes me see red. I don’t like the person who fires back in a fit of rage, as the real me is extracted from my raging body and floats above, watching the anger take hold. This anger is not serving me.
I pondered some more, shifting around in my heels as my feet are starting to ache. Someone who usually wears a colorful variety of cushioned and comfy athletic shoes certainly suffers the consequences when they try to be trendy and chic. But you should see these blue suede heels…
I ponder for another moment, take a sip and decide to tell her about my backpack. Inside this backpack, which I wear every day, is my pain, grief, sorrow and recently, rage. I cannot put it down, and on the particularly hard days, it feels like it weighs one million pounds. At least. Other days, the load feels lighter and I am able to cover more ground. I smile more and struggle less, even though my backpack remains fully intact. After Lea died, people saw this backpack. They could identify its contents and expected me to be different, to act differently, to show up differently. But today, 18 months later, they no longer see it. They see me showing up, doing all the things I should be, smiling, and living my life. They can see that my eyes are less puffy and red these days as the number of hours I spend crying is drastically reduced. They don’t see the backpack, but I still carry it.
Carrying this backpack, while trying not to seem like I am carrying it, is exhausting. It is so heavy, and takes up so much space, and yet I must navigate life like I am not wearing it. Life moves on, even though I wish for just one moment that the world would stop to recognize my pain and my pack. The sun rises and sets and we keep moving forward. I have to be a mom, and a wife, and a friend, and a coach, and a leader, and run my business, and produce, and inspire and create and churn… and I am just. so. tired. The load is heavy, even though I carry it well… even though you might not even be able to tell I am carrying it.
To date, I have hugged three women who have lost their children. The last one asked me just a few weeks after losing her son “How do you do it?” I shook my head as I held her tightly, arms wrapped around her backpack, tears rolling down her face. I told her, I don’t know how. You just do. She told me she feels empty… hollow without her son here and I nod, my own tears starting to form as I know this feeling all too well. The hollowness. The emptiness. The heaviness of this pack we are forced to carry.
Every day I navigate this world with a huge part of me missing. That hollow feeling never goes away, but somehow we learn to live with it’s awful presence. Somehow we learn how to move forward carrying this unbearable weight. Somehow we learn to live without their love.
She asked me as I polished off the last sip of beer if I could put my backpack down. I slowly nodded my head no gazing down into my now, empty glass. Empty. How fitting.
What I realized recently, that I didn’t have the insight to tell her on that night, was that while I can’t put my backpack down, I am not carrying it alone. I am supported by an army of family and friends, who, with outstretched arms push me, and my pack up this mountain. And on the days when my backpack is so heavy that I can’t take one more step, they make space and sit beside me on this brutiful journey, bearing witness to me and my pack.