Another week, another meal train. More meals made for a family that is not my own. Another night of pasta and whatever vegetables we happen to have in the fridge for dinner so someone else can have a freshly made pot roast and veggies or baked ziti and a salad. Brownies for dessert, something chocolate is a must at times like these. Another bag of quick snacks and not-super-perishable goods put together in a reusable grocery bag that I don’t intend to get back, and a new box of super-soft kleenex, don’t forget the kleenex.
Kleenex are important, almost as important as the brownies. There will be tears. Plenty of tears. Theirs of gratitude, yours ugly-crying in the car later, after you’ve dropped off the meal. Tears of exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional. Acknowledging that there is so much more to do, and you can’t do it all, and you feel helpless, and slightly ill.
People asking how you’re doing, you’re doing ok, you still have a house. You’re not really okay though. When your phone pings from the police/sheriff updates your heart skips a beat. Your heart as skipped quite a few beats in the last few weeks. First the evacuation orders pinged out, then more, finally some re-entry updates, and then at long last, “this street will be blocked off for Halloween” notification. Doesn’t matter, the conditioned response is the same: panic, disaster, are we next?
There is more to do. There is always more to do. “Can you set up another meal train?” It isn’t really a question. It is coming from someone else who is also over-taxed and carefully balancing the emotional needs of many, including themselves. “You’ve done such a good job with the others, thank you, I really appreciate it.” So you set one up, and then start to feel guilt when no one signs up for food in the first week, or the second… The family needs support. So you make another meal (or two, or three) and email around the link again, reminding people: this family needs dinner!
People need dinner. They need nourishment. They need support. People don’t need anymore stuff. The stuff sits in boxes and bags around their tiny temporary living quarters. This isn’t where they’re going to stay for more than a few weeks, at most, if they’re lucky. They don’t want to get too comfortable, just comfortable enough. Besides, they may have to leave in a hurry, again.
You see the stuff outside, piled under a tarp, scattered and somewhat exposed to the elements. Piles of good intentions. You feel overwhelmed on their behalf. If there was something more you could do to help, but what? You can’t fight everyone’s battles for them.
You want to help, but not overwhelm. You want to help, but you also realize the only reason you know them so well now is because you’ve been asked to assist them, and under every day circumstances you’d likely never exchange more than a polite “hello” or a brief conversation about the weather.
Is this karma or serendipity? Were our lives fated to be intertwined for a few brief weeks so I could help them through a tragedy, or is this merely happy happenstance that we both participate in a community that cares deeply for one another? I prefer serendipity. To suggest that this tragedy was somehow fate is too horrible for words.
Then there are all the other things, life does not stand still for tragedy, it goes on. There are birthday parties to attend, field trips to chaperone, work obligations to fulfuill, home repairs to make, events to coordinate, meetings to attend, another email to reply to, a text from the outside world intruding, someone who is wondering why I haven’t done some unimportant thing in a timely manner and I just want to scream at them, and in the midst of all that, there are still children who need love and support.
Things are far from returning to normal. My husband is out for work and will not be home until well past the children’s bedtime. The little one is anxious: “is Daddy somewhere safe?” He persists until he and Daddy can exchange selfies. Daddy is safe, or as safe as he can be in a car driving on a highway, but I don’t tell the little one that. Later, after the little one is in bed, I check my phone, he is still safe.
The little one has lingering anxiety issues from our evacuation talks. Several friends from the play yard at school lost everything. I’ve done a lot of reassuring and a lot of snuggling. I would not leave you at school if I didn’t feel it was safe. If it was unsafe, school would be closed. If something happened to make it unsafe, your teachers would do their best to make sure you’re OK. For Real. Thankfully the little one is sleeping through the night. I’m still waking up some nights, drenched in sweat, wide awake. There is the hum of the ceiling fan and sometimes some light snoring from my husband.
We are safe. I have done enough. I am doing to do more, but first I have to go grocery shopping, again.