It's A Sin To Grieve Too Long
Marty Kendall sucked in his breath as he walked out of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. It was a pleasant Sunday morning and the sun felt good on his face. He was glad to be out of the church which felt claustrophobic to him these days. He didn't want to socialize with anybody and he hoped to disappear into the crowd without being noticed.
"Marty! Marty!" A voice called to him.
He dropped his head with disappointment before turning to see Dawn Kelly coming down the church steps. Marty politely waved to acknowledge that he had seen her and he patiently waited for Dawn to catch up to him.
"How are you?" She wanted to know when she reached him.
"Fine," Marty replied neutrally.
"Liar," she said, giving him a critical look. "You know, it's a sin to grieve too long."
Dawn's remark caught him off guard and he looked blankly at her, at a loss as to how to respond.
"How long has it been?" Dawn asked. "Two years?"
Marty nodded affirmatively.
"You haven't been here much," Dawn observed, motioning toward the church behind them.
"I lost my way," he replied honestly. "Pissed off at God, I guess."
"I'm in charge of the community meal this week," Dawn revealed. "Bob Andrews just dropped out as a volunteer and I need a replacement. Can you help out? Thursday night? Congregational Church in Greenville. You'd have to be there by 5:30."
"I'm not much for socializing lately," Marty said.
"You're not socializing," Dawn replied. "You're volunteering to serve a meal."
It was the last thing Marty wanted to do. He had become an expert at hiding out in anti-social hibernation, withdrawn from people in self-preservation. Just dragging himself to work was hard enough and he had been on auto-control since the accident, barely functioning in his mourning.
Dawn's 'sin to grieve too long' comment bothered him and Marty couldn't help thinking to himself 'How long is long enough in grief? When does it become a sin? One Year? Two Years? Ten Years?'
"Can you help me out or not?" Dawn asked impatiently as Marty was lost in his own thoughts.
He looked at her blankly, already have forgotten what they were talking about. Dawn Kelley, his old high school locker buddy (given their alphabetical closeness). She was a good looking woman in her late thirties, as tall as him with long black hair and she was still almost as thin as she had been in high school. She never married and Marty figured she was either Lesbian or so strict in her religious beliefs that she was holding out for the perfect (Catholic) man which – to Marty – seemed like a fool's errand. There was no such thing. He almost asked her point blank why she wasn't married but he caught himself.
Dawn was growing annoyed with his failure to respond to her request. "Marty?" She asked with frustration. "Are you going to help me or what?"
"Okay," he said, mostly because he was embarrassed to have been so spacy in her presence.
Marty was like a boat without a rudder these days – aimlessly directionless in his thoughts and actions, content on avoiding everyday life in order to sidestep grieving in public around happy people living their happy lives without a clue as to what he had been going through for the past two years.
"Good," Dawn said. "I'll see you Thursday."
He watched the departing Dawn stroll down the Church's sidewalk and he couldn't help but notice the swing of her hips underneath the long flower-printed dress she was wearing. She really should be married by now instead of being what the previous generation would have called 'an old maid' even if she wasn't quite forty yet.
Marty had been questioning his Faith and religion since Kate died but sometimes when he saw attractive women like Dawn seeming to hold out because of their Faith he couldn't help but think it was a waste even though he knew it was none of his business what Dawn did with her life. She was entitled to live the way she choose and to follow whatever Faith tenants she believed in without being second guessed by narrow minded simpletons like him!
Marty almost no-showed on Thursday night but even in his comatose functioning, he knew it would be rude, unkind and insensitive to go back on his word so he found himself reluctantly parking his car in the unfamiliar Greenville church parking lot and finding his way to the kitchen feeling uncomfortably out of place and increasingly nervous.
He noticed familiar faces of various St. Patrick parishioners already at work and he saw Dawn charging around overseeing tasks and barking out orders. She tossed Marty an apron and told him he would be serving the chicken slices in the 'chow' line so he took his place between Mrs. Sawyer who was manning the mashed potatoes and Mrs. Garrison who was spooning out the gravy.
The serving went reasonably well and Marty was moved by the poor souls who made their way through the line – drug addicts, down on their luck folks, people struggling to make ends meet, and even families who came to eat a free meal to extend their weekly food budget. Sometimes Marty was so busy being miserable feeling sorry for himself that he neglected to notice that other people went through hard times too. At least he had a place to live and a kitchen full of food.
Marty made small talk with his fellow servers who were kind enough not to ask after his dead wife or mention him missing Mass. The St. Patrick's Community was very kind and supportive in the aftermath of Kate's death although most of those days were a blur in his clouded mind. Kate was the one who liked Father Fitzgerald and the Parish. Marty had stopped going to Church after high school but Kate's enthusiasm for the Faith brought him back and they were married at St. Patrick's with Father Fitzgerald as the Celebrant. How sad it was that Father Fitzgerald also officiated at Kate's funeral.
Marty smiled at the people going through the line and he even slapped an extra slice or two of chicken on the tray of those who looked like they could use some added food. When they were done serving, Marty helped with clean up and he and Dawn were among the last to leave the church at the end of the night.
"See, that wasn't so bad," Dawn said lightheartedly as Marty walked her to her car in the darkened parking lot. She glanced at him when he didn't respond. "I'm sorry your love story ended so tragically," she said bluntly. "But you can't hide in solitary confinement forever, Marty."
"It's easier that way," Marty replied as they reached her car in the otherwise empty parking lot except for his car a few rows over.
"Do you think you will ever be capable of experiencing joy again?" She asked. "You're so melancholy."
"I'm emotionally dead," Marty admitted.
"I'm not going to pretend to know what it's been like for you," Dawn said as they stood by the side of her car. "But we've known each other for a long time and I've always cared about you."
"I appreciate that," Marty said sincerely.
"Would you like to spend some time together?" Dawn wanted to know.
Marty was stunned by her proposal. "I'm not ready yet," he managed to say.
"When do you think you're going to be ready, Marty?" Dawn asked sarcastically.
"Probably never," he admitted truthfully.
"It's a sin to grieve too long." Dawn stared at him as she repeated her line from the other day.
"You might be too Catholic for me," Marty revealed.
Dawn laughed out loud at that. "Honestly?" She asked with insulted disbelief. "You think I'm going to be a Nun or something?"
"You just seem very devout in your Catholicism and I'm barely hanging on is all I meant," he said.
"Look, I admit that I'm a Church person," Dawn said. "I'm observant of the practices and I enjoy the special tradition and meaning of the Mass. I feel better when I go. I love my job teaching the Faith at the Catholic School. But I'm also lonely and I'm tired of playing the stupid dating game even on those Christian dating sites. We've known each other since high school and maybe since we already know each other we should give it a shot."
"You don't need me and my problems in your life," Marty replied.
"Why don't you let me decide that for myself?" Dawn suggested.
"I won't be able give you the attention and flattery you deserve," Marty said. "I lost my sense of humor. I'm barely able to get out of bed in the morning."
"Everybody has their idiosyncrasies," she said lightly.
"I'm heartbroken with grief," he sighed.
"I'll accept your apology later," Dawn remarked but he didn't respond to her attempted humor. "Look," she said. "I'm not looking for a long term commitment. But I've always liked you and I can see that you're hurting and that makes me feel sad. Why don't you at least let me into your life a little bit?"
"I'm still in love with my wife."
"That's okay," Dawn said. "I respect that."
"I'm also a cancer survivor," Marty revealed.
"Wow!" Dawn said with amazement. "You're really being tested, aren't you?"
"I'm doing well right now," Marty said. "It's been a couple of years. I just finished my last chemo treatment when Kate got killed, as a matter of fact. She was so supportive through it all and that made her death so much harder to deal with."
"I'm really sorry, Marty," Dawn said, leaning her backside against her car door and staring at him. "I don't know how you've gotten through all the crosses God has challenged you with."
"I only tell you because anything can happen and you probably don't need to get involved with someone who doesn't have a guaranteed future."
"Who does?" Dawn asked. "I could get hit by a bus tomorrow."
She saw the look on his face and suddenly she knew how seriously she had blundered realizing that Kate had been killed by a semi-truck that lost its brakes and careened through a red light, broadsiding her SUV.
"Oh, Marty," Dawn said, horrified. She took a deep breath. "I can't believe I said that!"
"I understand the point you were trying to make," he said, letting her off the hook.
"My mother had breast cancer for years," Dawn revealed, her eyes watering up. "I'd go to treatment with her, plus the surgeries, so being around cancer wouldn't be anything new to me."
"I had forgotten about your Mom," Marty admitted. "I'm sorry."
"I still miss her just like you'll always miss Kate," Dawn said with sympathy. "I just didn't sin in grief like you. My mom was always so optimistic and positive, even in her illness. She never lost hope or questioned her Faith right up to the end. Her courage and dignity in the way she died made me realize how precious life really is."
There was a long pause between them.
"Why don't we just go out for pizza some night?" Dawn suggested. "Nothing more than that."
Marty gave her a long look. "Okay," he finally agreed. "Pizza."
"Great!" Dawn smiled, finally opening the door to her car. "I'll see ya!"
With that, she climbed into the car, closed the door, started the engine, gave him a friendly and cheerful wave and grin through the side window of the car before driving into the night leaving Marty behind to try to figure out what just happened!