Standing in the Centre of the Fire

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back. Oriah Mountain Dreamer

In the early days after Jimmy died, our closest friends and beloved family members rushed in like first responders, as Jayson Greene calls them. Texting, emailing, calling, checking in, showing up, delivering casseroles. I needed every one of them. It was as though I couldn’t stop shivering, no matter how many quilts I piled on the bed. But each loving contact warmed me just enough to make it through until the next one arrived.

During the day while Molly was at school, Dan and I grabbed onto each other like two drowning souls, afraid of letting go for fear we’d go under. I was terrified of being alone but too raw and exposed to go out. So I would stay close to the dog and turn on the tv when Dan left for 30 minutes to run an errand or go to the grocery store, asking always, “How soon will you be back?”

Each time I ventured out, whether forced by circumstance (we were out of milk) or to show up for Molly, it ripped the thin covering off what felt like a huge, gaping, easily spotted wound. Running into familiar faces turned into a twisted game of how to parry their questions and comments. Could I avoid telling them that he had died? Or if they already knew, could I prevent them from expressing their condolences? As much as I appreciated the latter, the mere mention of Jimmy’s name was enough to tear me in two.

I focused only on what was in front of me … getting Molly to and from school, showing up for her high school softball games, canceling Jimmy’s insurance, reporting the change in our family status to the relevant government and financial institutions, purging left over prescriptions and medical supplies. Dan and I stayed up late, binge watching episode after episode of Breaking Bad, hoping to exhaust ourselves enough to sleep.

My mother and my closest friends didn’t care that I was broken, empty-handed, shabby. They stood in the center of the fire, leaning in, not out. My wound could stay hidden and unspoken or bleed profusely. We could talk about nothing or rant endless about the unfairness of our loss. The choice was mine. They refused to shrink back, let go, walk away. I could rage, I could sob, I could sit dry-eyed and stone-faced. They didn’t judge. They didn’t demand. They gave no sign that they were worried about finding the perfect words. They sat with the uncertainty, the mess, the unknowing, the darkness, the pain. And day by day, week by week, month by month, they loved me back to life.

Five years on, I am stronger now. Able to talk about Jimmy without breaking down … most of the time. Armored enough to shrug or laugh off the occasional thoughtless comment. Healed enough to reach out for one of my beloveds when the pain of his absence is too great and ask for an ear, a walk, a shoulder, a hug. I can sit in that tender place of unknowing and accept how broken open, vulnerable, confused and imperfect I am and remember how grateful I am to still be here and to be so very loved.

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