It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in the wrong seat.
The memorial service and reception was over. My immediate family and myself, plus my sister and brother and their families, gathered at a favourite restaurant for dinner. It was one of the “firsts”—those things you do alone for the first time.
Tears burned at the ready. I tried not to think as we made the 45-minute drive from the church. Thankfully I wasn’t driving. I took a deep breath and tried to think of something funny, stupid, inconsequential…anything else than where my thoughts kept wandering.
Eventually we all arrived. Menus and waters were delivered. We sat around the large table looking at menus, discussing the various options.
And I was in the wrong seat.
I don’t know how I got to that particular chair, but here I was. In my mind, the head of the table was for the head of the family, not that our family always abided by that tradition. But today…
The noise and bustle of the restaurant, the loving faces of family, the menu I held—they all faded from my senses.
My dad died in 2000. My mum was slowly dying in a dementia ward, had been there four and a half years. My husband had been the “patriarch” of the family for some time, and the “head” of the family for a number of years.
Slowly, as time stood still, the realization sank in. My husband was not the “head” of the family anymore.
I swallowed hard as tears filled my eyes. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t want to be the “head” of the family. I wanted to run. Run from the restaurant and the noise and the people and my “now” reality, to the arms of my husband who was always there for me… Except, now he wasn’t.
Somehow I ordered, ate, conversed. We lingered over tea and coffee and dessert. Eventually someone said they really had to get going. Everyone agreed. Coats and purses and children were gathered. Once outside there was the usual round of hugs and “love you!”s.
I climbed into the car. Thankfully I wasn’t driving. Sometimes the driver. Sometimes a passenger. But never really in control on this road called life.
Quiet words my brother had spoken to me at the restaurant floated in front of my closed eyes. My thoughts stilled as I looked at them.
“Many people spend a lot of time saying ‘if only.’ ‘If only I’d done this differently.’ ‘If only I’d taken the left fork in the road,’ ‘if only I could start over.’ Perhaps, in time, you can look at this new stage of your life as a time to start over.”
I bundled up his words in tears and questions. Tied it with the very thinnest frayed strand of hopeful anticipation. And set it in a corner of my mind.
“Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don’t. You are in good company… You will argue with yourself that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope.“
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.“