Moving to a better mental place

We froze our first summer in Seattle.

I had just finished sixth grade when my family left the Midwest for this strange new land. It never got really warm during the days. And the nights were always cold.

Then, too, there were the number of gray days versus the number of sunny days. I don't remember the summer after seventh grade. By then, I assume, we had become acclimated. Seventy-five degrees was hot. Eighty-five was blistering. Late evening almost always meant a sweatshirt or jacket.

I thought about that recently when I realized I was tired of the ways I answered people's "How are you?"

After my wife's death in 2013, I fell into a pattern of answering "OK," "up and down" or "all right." "Good" or "fine" never came to mind. Yes, of course, things could have been worse, much worse, but my life seemed far from good. Far from fine.

As the months went by, I knew that for others, for those not close to my wife, her death occured a long time ago. Six months. A year. Two years. It was sometime in the vague past, they weren't quite sure when. If they asked, I would tell them. If they guessed wrong, I would gently correct them.

Then, recently, something strange happened. Out of the blue, I thought, I'm tired of answering "OK" or "all right." I need to redefine "fine."

I thought: If I were in an accident and could no longer walk, when would I be "fine"? Would it be after 10 years in a wheelchair? Twenty? If, two decades after that accident, someone asked, "How are you doing, Bill?" would I tell him, "How am I doing? I'm in a wheelchair, that's how I'm doing."

After the death of a child or grandchild, when is a person "fine"?

After a divorce, when is that person "fine"?

Each of us is forced to face things we don't want to face. Learn things we don't want to learn. Experience things we don't want to experience. Things that change us forever. Things that never "go away."

It takes time to acclimate to our new life. It takes time for us to redefine "fine." There are no timelines for that to happen. No countdowns. No circling a number on a calendar and thinking, "Oh, good, only this many more days."

It takes work. Patience. Perseverance. Prayer. And the grace of God.

But even then, sometimes we won't be doing fine. Triggered or untriggered, those crushing emotions and memories will well up from the depths and dominate. For a time. Just for a time. Then, once again, we'll be fine.

Dodds and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver (fsjc.org). Bill is the editor of My Daily Vistor magazine and his latest novels are Pope Bob and The World's Funniest Atheist.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015