Monday mornings are all the same to me—too many meetings with too much to do and too little time. But on a particular Monday morning this May, I opened an email from my wife that would push me to do something that I had been avoiding for 18 months—engage myself, challenge myself, confront myself and my emotions following our son’s death a year and a half ago. It suggested I write.
I love my wife. And it’s not because she’s beautiful and smart or any of the other cliché answers that so many husbands give when asked about their wives. She is all these things but I love her because she knows me. Her love for me is unique in that she knows my strengths, my flaws, and in many instances, it’s entirely possible that she knows me better than I know myself.
She knows that the conventional wisdom and practices for grief don’t necessarily belong in the same story as mine or even hers for that matter. We all grieve individually and we all find ourselves in our own solitary rooms with no doors. She knows that I bristle when asked to talk about my feelings and even when I do open up my words are often muddled and clouded, disorganized and clumsy. Knowing this, she encourages me to find the avenues that are effective for me. Writing is one of those avenues. In fact, for me, it’s Main Street.
So when I opened her email that Monday morning, I didn’t know what to expect. Take a look—she wrote—a website I follow needs bereaved fathers’ perspectives. She didn’t say she wanted me to write for it. She didn’t need to. She knew I would for the same reason she follows the website—grief leaves you in a cloud of confusion that is impossible to navigate without help. Writing about it would be my compass, a way to chart the unruly waters of heartbreak so that I could stay afloat.
To be honest, the first time I glanced at the website address I thought it read, “Standing still.com.” I believed it odd that a bereavement website would name itself as such so I read it again—“still standing.com.” Oh, I thought to myself, that makes sense now.
To those of you who have lost a precious loved one, I presume many of you would tell me tales of moments that you refer back to in your darkest hour. Not a turning point, if you will, but a cornerstone moment that fuels who we are to become in the aftermath of tragedy. I am no different. My moment came in the middle of the night in a dark hospital room where a doctor had just left the two of us. The news she had just given us shattered my outlook on life, creating a “before and after” split reality from what I had once thought to what I now know. Among the flood of tears and panic the question from my wife still haunts me, “what are we going to do?”
The nauseating smell of the sterile hospital room choked the oxygen from my lungs, leaving me speechless and searching for the answer she wanted. I had no answer to give to her then as I had no answer to give myself. What WERE we going to do?
So when I clicked on the link taking me to stillstanding.com, my temporary dyslexia led me to think of a simple question I hadn’t realized I was asking myself these many months: Am I still standing or am I standing still? Am I going to let the death of my son consume me or am I going to live my life in such a way that the angel on my shoulder is proud of the man he sees?
Am I standing still or am I still standing?
I ask myself that question every morning the instant the alarm clock screams at me. I never want to wake. I never want to rise. And there are mornings when gravity seems to paralyze my body to point of suffocation, my bones glued to the mattress with no hint of the word perseverance. But the answer is always the same—I AM STILL STANDING.
Perhaps the answer isn’t a statement at all. Perhaps the answer is found in the question itself. Am I still standing or am I standing still? Am I going to be shut down by my grief or will I grow stronger despite it?
Too often society teaches you to walk away from the unpleasant, from the uncomfortable, from conflict. And it ostracizes those who struggle with pain found within themselves. But perhaps the acknowledgement of it, the embracement of it, the confrontation of it will change the attitude of one from standing still to still standing.