In the months since my father has died, I have heard the same question over and over again: “Are you really okay?” Most of the time it is a genuine question, although sometimes it is dutifully asked as a perfunctory exercise of social graces.
Either way, my answer is always the same: “I’m really okay.” I always have been, even if I didn’t understand why.
But the parade of confused looks and barely hidden disbelief at my unconventional reaction made me start to think that everyone else knew something I didn’t. Was I actually in denial like many suggested? Was I suppressing my own heartbreak because of some self-imposed sense of obligation to take care of those around me? Or, worse, was I just a cold, heartless shell of a person? What kind of person was I – never one known for hiding any of my feelings – that I seemed to take this whole thing in stride, as if someone had merely told me my car had died?
Let me get this out of the way – I am no psychologist. Apart from a brief foray into the field for my 9th grade science project, I have no authority in the inner workings of the mind whatsoever. But it seems pretty clear to me that there is no right way to grieve. Or more precisely, there is no wrong way to grieve. I just couldn’t explain why my reaction was so . . . unconventional.
The other night, the boys and I stayed up late finishing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone." And I got to this sentence. The answer I had been struggling to find for six months. In a bloody Harry Potter book.
I didn’t realize I had stopped reading until my 6-year-old gently put his hand on my arm. They both sensed, although they did not know why, that something important had happened.
They were right.
I realized there was nothing wrong with me at all. I realized that it’s okay that I really am okay.
Being okay doesn’t mean I’m not grieving. It doesn’t mean I’m in denial. And it surely doesn’t mean that my heart is steely cold. It is, in fact, the opposite of all of those things.
It just means that the love of my father was so deep, so resolute, so infinite, so powerful that it protects me. Even though he is gone. It isn’t just in my heart or the crevices of my memory. It is in my very skin.
Because that’s what good love – real love – does. It creates a suit of armor that protects you.
It is impenetrable in the moments when you need it. It gives you the strength to do things you believed you could not.
It is soft when it needs to be. When you are sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, feeling small and alone. It does not deflect pain or loss or heartbreak, but it allows your heart to bend without breaking.
Mostly, it allows you the grace to see the good along with the bad. To realize that they are not mutually exclusive concepts. To be okay with being okay.
We all have a love that powerful. It might come from your family, or your friends, or your significant other. Or, if you’re lucky, all three.
And it will always protect you, even when those people are gone. Because love never ends.
It is in our very skin.