Now what?

I’ve neglected this blog while the demands of caregiving have consumed all of my powers. Well, I did keep up the Caring Bridge journal for those folks who followed the course of our lives over the 15 and 1/2 months of Ron’s struggle after his stroke.(Search for Ronald Liechty at http://www.caringbridge.com if you are curious.) But now his journey has ended and mine must continue without him. Now what?

The demands on the living after a death are legion. The cumulative fatigue, the grief work, the tedium of forms, the stress of solo decision-making, the disruption of life patterns – as well as sleep – all contribute to the confusion of emotion following the death of a spouse. Or a parent, a close friend, or a child.

I once had a bright yellow poster with a single white egg in the center. Next to the egg stood a brand new, fluffy baby chick looking stupefied as only chickens can. The bold black letters beneath spelled the two-word question that comes when our world changes. You guessed it, “Now what?” I displayed that poster in a variety of life situations – following the end of my first marriage, while I was a single parent, after I married Ron, and finally every year in my senior English classroom the last weeks before graduation. The question comes again and again in life, but the answers are never the same. Only the question remains unchanged. And we must ask it if we are to survive. Really, the question is not about confusion, but power.

One of my favorite of Ron’s sermons was inspired by his growing up in the family hatchery busines, entitled “Hatch or Rot?” Believe me, you didn’t want to hear his stories about eggs that didn’t hatch. Not so nice. The sermon admonished listeners that the human tendency to cling to the status quo was the equivalent of refusing to hatch. That God’s plan for life – for reasons that our poultry brains will never comprehend – is change. The safety of shells is always temporary. And limiting. Ron’s Pentecost message was at once for the church and for the individual lives in the pews. Humans tend to see religion as a source of safety, of protection from the evil world. And it is that sometimes. Temporarily. But simply to remain safe leads to rot. Life must shatter us on occasion. We find ourselves stupefied by change. If we get stuck resenting change or just asking why there had to be change, we will remain stupefied. If we are wise, we will ask the life-affirming question, “Now what?” The question itself is powerful because we can realize our ability to choose. We can realize our power to scratch out a new life. Or we can rot.

I’m fresh out of the shell of a long, happy marriage ended by struggle, loss, and grief. I may look disoriented and uncertain. Even stupefied. That’s to be expected. But I am asking the best question the Universe has to offer. Now what?

I’ll keep you posted.