How are you Managing?
By M. C. Millman
It can be a good day, and it usually is when it happens. Everything is proceeding, I’m managing, I’m not overwhelmed with grief, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a singular ray of hope of getting past the constant ache of reality when suddenly I meet someone.
“And how are you managing?” they’ll ask, their eyes filling with tears as they envision how difficult it really must be to be managing without a daughter of eighteen years, my Perel Rena a”h.
“I’m fine, Baruch Hashem,” I’ll say, turning away fast as tears well up in my eyes as a direct reflection of theirs. “Really, I’m getting along fine.”
“Are you seeing someone?” they’ll ask, as my words belie my traitorous, tear-filled eyes. “Do you have someone to talk to?”
“Really, I’m doing fine,” I’ll argue, and I was, I was fine, I am fine. I can get along fine. The minutes, hours, days, they can pass when I keep busy, and I can manage when I don’t have the time to sit down, to think, to dwell. The only thing that can put a stick in my spokes when I’m just trying to roll along go with the flow is when some well meaning individual will stop and ask and even then I’m fine unless their eyes, the windows to the soul fill with tears. Why is it that this reflected pain melts all of my carefully erected reserves in an instant? Their pain which can only be minimal compared to mine, the mother, is what ricochets in my heart, causing my tears to fall when moments before I was as perfectly in control of things as anyone could hope to be when dealing with the aftereffects that never go away of grief.
Even in those quiet moments, when I find myself alone and my thoughts inevitably turn to Perel Rena A”H, it’s not my own searing pain and raw emotion that causes me to cry, it’s when I inevitably think of the pain her passing caused to others that I cry the hardest. Her siblings, her friends and family, neighbors, fellow students, teachers, co-workers, acquaintances, doctors, nurses. How did they manage through the shock of her passing? How much pain and agony they must have suffered when they heard. How can they possibly deal when they think about her? And the reality has to be that at this point, nearly one year later, the ripples effect of her life has got to have faded from their lives. To them, she is but a distant memory, and still I cry for them more than I cry for me or for my husband. To turn to thoughts of the pain of either: myself or my spouse is still something that my mind shies away at even envisioning. For me, I can’t bring myself to dwell on the after effects that the shockwaves of Perel Rena’s sudden absence have affected. Illogical as it is, I would still rather think of the pain of others rather than my own.
Maybe the guilt of actually coping without her is another factor. I know that I am Baruch Hashem doing fine. I know we are managing. And the guilt that I’m not like that person who asked me at the start, “How are you managing?” that person who cries when she thinks about Perel Rena and suffering, and grief, because it’s not a constant thrumming in her head that Perel Rena is gone! Perel Rena is gone! A person who can have the luxury of crying because to her it’s just a passing twinge of pain and then she’ll get back to whatever it is that she has to get back to. Maybe that’s the reason behind my reciprocal tears, realizing how transient her tears are. As for myself, I don’t have the luxury of crying when thinking about Perel Rena’s passing, because then I would be crying forever.
It’s more than a year since I wrote this. More than two years since Perel Rena was niftar suddenly on the 19th of Elul and a long time since anyone has asked me how we are managing. It’s a relief not to have to deal with other people’s pain for us, but on the other hand, that means they’re forgetting, and they expect that I am too.
At this point, they expect us to be managing. It’s no longer a question of how. But, I don’t want to forget. None of the readers of this magazine do. I think we would rather deal with the heartfelt how are you’s than this new looming fear, that our children might be forgotten because they’re no longer here. And how are we managing? Really? I don’t know how we are, but b”h somehow we are. There’s no other choice as far as I can see and thus the whole absurdity of the question to start with, a question that just gets added to the never ending list of questions (like: how many children do you have?) that now I will never ask.
This article originally appeared in Our Tapestry Issue #6, Winter/Spring 2009. All Rights Reserved