Sometimes, advice and encouragement comes from the strangest places. I’m a bit of a PBS fanatic – not only do I love Downton Abbey, but I have also fallen in love with another PBS series: Call the Midwife – a show set in the East End of London in the 1950’s-60’s. It’s a dramatic portrayal of the lives of a group of midwives that do home deliveries. My kids call it “the show with all the screaming pregnant ladies” – yeah, that about sums it up, I guess.
I was catching up on an episode (Season 3, Episode 4) I missed yesterday. In it, the main character, Nurse Jenny Lee, is falling more deeply in love with her boyfriend (note: falling more deeply in love in 1950’s London looks NOTHING like falling more deeply in love in 2014 – anywhere!) Alec had asked Jenny to go to the seaside for a weekend getaway. Before they could go, however, he had a work accident in which he shattered his ankle, femur, arm, and several ribs. With Alec on the mend, Jenny realized more than ever how much she loved him.
Jenny went back to work and was helping another midwife with a delivery when she got the news that Alec had taken a turn for the worse. By the time she got to the hospital, Alec had just died from an embolism. Obviously, she was in shock and found herself facing an unexpected grief that was deeper than she could deal with.
Before the funeral, Jenny has a chance encounter with an elderly woman who had been one of the only survivors in her family from Nazi Germany. Because of the fact that she had survived in the cellar of someone’s house, she had become agoraphobic (scared to go outside) and had lived the past 12 years in her flat without ever leaving. Her daughter just gave birth to her first grandchild. This became the catalyst for her to conquer her agoraphobia.
At their encounter on the street, the elderly woman and her daughter were making the rounds saying goodbye before moving to a different part of the city the next week. When she says good-bye to Jenny, Jenny can’t hold it in any longer and starts to cry. The woman assures Jenny that one day she will feel better.
Jenny isn’t so sure. She asks, “Will I?”
The woman looks right at her, puts her hand on Jenny’s shoulder, and says, “You just keep living until you’re alive again.”
It was at this point, that I couldn’t hold it in any longer – my tears started to flow.
If you have experienced a loss, you will recognize the deep truth in that old woman’s statement. You just keep living – plodding along, surviving day by day, hour by hour, putting one step in front of the next. For a long time, the only thing I could do was to ask God, “What do I do next?” Sometimes the answer was ‘do the dishes’ and sometimes it was ‘take a nap.’ Your body is living, lungs are breathing, heart is beating; but that is all.
It took a full year before I could draw a deep breath and look around me to see how I might start living again. And even then, it took a few months to really get back into the swing of things. It has now been 17 months since Tim died. I feel like I’m alive again – most of the time. Even still, there are times (sometimes just a few hours, sometimes several days together) when I feel myself sliding back into that non-alive existence. But those times are getting shorter and less frequent.
So, if you are in the midst of experiencing a great loss, be encouraged – one day you will feel better. Just keep living … until you’re alive again.