It’s been two and a half years since my husband died suddenly. In that time I thought I’d seen and heard it all.
I’ve heard every “at least” in the book. At least you had children together. At least they were old enough to have memories. At least they were young enough to not really understand. At least you had 15 years together. At least he didn’t suffer.
I’ve been comforted by literally hundreds of people. I’ve spent time mourning my husband with his family, friends, colleagues, and patients, listening to beautiful words of encouragement and the occasional way off-base comment.
I’ve been asked thousands of times, “Are you ok?” by well meaning friends and colleagues.
And then, last week, someone asked me a question that I had never been asked before. Someone I’d only recently met, who didn’t really know me and knew only the bones of what had happened.
He asked, “How’s your heart?”
The question floored me. My response floored me more. I felt this intense pain. Immediately. Like it had all just happened yesterday. All of a sudden, I was vulnerable again. The scab had been ripped off. This one seemingly simple question forced me to really consider how I was actually doing.
At first, I avoided answering the question. If distraction has been the number one strategy I’ve used to deal with grief, then avoidance is a close second. But he was having none of that.
And so I had to answer. But first I needed to ask the question to myself. I stopped my car, pulled over to the side of the road, and took a moment to think…
How is my heart?
Mostly, I am okay. I am grateful for the fact that my children and I are healthy and have been surrounded, cocooned almost, in the tight grip of family and community. I have friends that come and keep me company in the evenings. When I am home alone, I know I could pick up the phone and someone would be at the other end to listen at whatever time of the day. I have managed to learn how to live as an independent adult for the first time in my life. I’ve also learned how to kill big spiders and use a screwdriver.
But in between all of the things that I have to be grateful for, my heart is still broken and possibly always will be. There has not yet been a day when I don’t think of my husband, and there may never be. The glue that holds my heart together hasn’t dried. It may always feel tacky to touch. It wont ever be the same.
And yet, I also realized my heart is still beating. It has felt the deepest of pain and it still beats. It’s possible it beats more strongly than it did before. In having a broken heart I’ve been forced to fully face – no, decide – what my new life will look like.
There’s no going with the flow anymore. I can’t just coast along my path anymore. The path I used to have just doesn’t exist. After having my heart broken, I’ve had to figure out how to fit the pieces back together in a way that makes me want my heart to keep beating, even when some days it feels like it would be easier to let go. That’s what facing the how’s your heart question showed me.
It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve spent the last two and a half years trying new things, meeting new people, going against my natural personality, and deliberately trying to force my heart to stay open to new possibilities. I try to live an intentional life, to make sure I spend my time on things and people that are meaningful. To live not just with purpose, but with passion.
I know it is this attitude which led me to meeting the person that asked me the most important question of my life, a person I would likely never have met had I stayed in the same place trying to hold my heart together on my own.
I wonder, in this disconnected world, what would happen if more people simply asked each other, how’s your heart?