By Connie Gochenaur

Editor’s note: I asked Connie to give some context for this powerful piece of writing. She said, “I am not one of those writers who always kept a journal. I don’t have boxes full of spiral notebooks. I have sporadically started prayer journals, but they were not the ‘this is my life’ kind of writing. However, when my husband died unexpectedly, I felt compelled to put my thoughts on paper.  I tried several different journals from the large box warehouse, but returned them all. Nothing suited my needs. So I created my own. Traumatized and in shock, I became a journal keeper.

“One of the prompts in my journal asks, ‘What am I feeling?’ As a doer, that daily question forced me to pause long enough to discern my emotions. For the first time in my life I jotted down words like sad, lost, lonely, depressed. Abandoned. I was suddenly in touch with my feelings. So when an online grief group posed the question, ‘Who’s Driving Your Bus?’ the words just poured out of me.”

Below, you’ll find Connie’s answer to that question. 

My bus is stuck in the mud this week. Apathy, the bus driver, doesn’t think we can get out. Wallowing, his companion, is here with him, a distraction, and we aren’t getting much accomplished, paralyzed by the situation. Food and drink have graciously been provided, but the thought of eating brings Nausea to sit beside me. Exhaustion has gotten on recently and urges me to “just sleep it off” until the bus gets going again.

I started riding this bus last October, on a chilly harvesting evening. I was at a meeting when a call buzzed through on my phone. Words I didn’t want to hear echoed in my ear, “He’s down; paramedics are working on him, but it doesn’t look good.”

Fear was my bus driver that first evening. I sat down by Dread and sternly told Despair to sit in the back, away from me. We flew down the road way too fast, but Anxiety wouldn’t allow us to slow down.

By the time Fear frantically pulled the bus off the road onto a grassy bank, Darkness had settled over the field and into my heart. A dozen farm trucks formed a circle, all headlights beamed into the center, illuminating my sheet-covered husband, lying next to his combine in the field of soybeans he would never reap.

I’m not sure how long I stayed in the field, surrounded by people and activity. Who were those people? What did they say? What did I say? I don’t remember. Fog swept in and settled over everything. Or was it only over me?

I don’t recall much about the ride home as Fog was on the bus too, but one thing I clearly remember is BestFriend wasn’t on the bus. When Shock and Denial realized that, they jumped on and held my hands. They became my roommates and stayed at the house for weeks. Fog is still here, but mostly in my head, and he doesn’t allow me to think straight.

That night, Alone insisted on riding and boarded the bus as we left the field. She was quiet, yet her presence filled the bus. She kept repeating, “I’m here. I’ll stay with you forever.” She has been true to her word. She is always here. To be honest, at times I enjoy her company, and she is exactly who I need. But then, I grow weary of her company, and still she doesn’t leave. Alone is always here.

I don’t know from day to day who’s going to be on the bus, but Confusion rides regularly and seeks me out. All the bus riders have become my friends. Loss and Sorrow always sit with me, sometimes even on my lap. I need these new friends because when I ask my old friends to join me on the bus, Lethargy and JustCan’t often jump up and push them out the door. This confuses my old buddies and they don’t come around as much anymore.

There are a couple of new kids, Envy and Anger, riding these days. They are bullies and push Kindness away as they sit down. I’m just getting to know them, and I’m not sure I like them; but sometimes they surprise me and show up when I least expect them.

Recently when BestFriend’s birthday loomed close, Alone and I took the bus to a lakeside bed & breakfast. I asked Respite to join us as I wanted her pampering over the weekend. That first afternoon, after a few boutiques, Ambush surprised me in a shop BestFriend and I visited on a romantic get-away a few years back. Sadness immediately walked through the door and boldly told me we should just go home. I tried to ignore her, but Memories and Loneliness joined us at dinnertime, and then, decided to share our room. After one long night, everyone but Respite caught the bus and we headed home.

I rebounded after a few days, and early one morning, Encouragement sat down beside me. She was delightful, and we were just getting acquainted when Guilt pushed in and took over the conversation. Encouragement jumped off the bus without even saying good-bye. At the next stop, Depression kicked the door open, and with darkness in his eyes and a sleeping bag under his arm, camped out under my feet for days.

I’m weary of the bus. How long will I ride?

Apathy and Fear are the regular drivers, but sometimes, and much to my surprise, Grace shows up and takes the wheel. She is kind and good and offers refreshment to all whenever she is around. I relax, roll down the windows, and tell her to drive like the wind.

I’m not sure where they’ve gone, but Excitement and Joy have been away for a long time. I miss them. Grace says they’ll return some day. I hope so. Another rider, Determination, has taken up my cause. I think she feels sorry for me, but I like her anyways. She urged me to look for FindingPurpose when I take a seat. “Sit next to her. She’ll be a good friend. And don’t forget Gratitude. Find her. Gratitude will never let you down.” Oh yes, Gratitude! I know her! I’ve seen her a few times. She always brings Lightheartedness along with her. They are amazing and so easy to be with.

Now that I’ve been a regular bus-rider for months, FindingPurpose has begun to notice me. She offers suggestions and ideas that perk my interest. At her urging, Inspired has enrolled me into a grief writing group and I’ve taken up my pen again. It’s hard to write about Pain and Grief because they don’t want me to be honest. I’ve learned that honesty isn’t for Everyone; that’s why Everyone doesn’t ride the bus. I’ve engaged Vulnerability to help, and in doing so, Bravery, Transparency, and even Healing have been on the bus recently. They’re fun, carefree and so interesting. I want to get to know them better.

One day, amid all the chaos on the bus, I hear something. The voices are faint, but I can almost make out the words. As I strain and look around, I see them walking together down the aisle toward my seat. They catch my eye and keep my gaze. I can’t look away. I watch them approach, and then at last, they are here.

Expectancy climbs over me and sits down, and behind her, I see my oldest and dearest friend, Faith.

Faith sits down, hugs me close and cries with me. As she takes Sorrow into her own lap, she softly whispers the words I heard only faintly before, “When you’re ready to open the door, and walk down the steps off this bus, I’ll be with you.”

The bus driver hesitates, but I shake my head, and he closes the door and pulls the bus back onto the road. Faith wraps her arm around me and gently begins to talk about her friend, NewMeaning. She wipes a tear from my cheek and tenderly says, “She won’t be the same as BestFriend, no one ever will, but she will be good for you, and often brings Strong and Courageous with her.” I ponder this, and as I do, Hope squeezes in, and cuddles up close.

Connie is a storyteller and a blogger. Her devotional writing has been featured in The Upper Room, The Perennial Gen and Prodigal. She is the Women’s Ministry leader at Maple City Chapel and an Art Facilitator for senior citizens at a retirement village. She recently became widowed, but was married to her high school sweetheart for over 46 years, is the mother of four grown daughters and Grandma to seven beautiful grandchildren. She is passionate about the study of God’s Word and fascinated by how relevant it is to daily living. Connie writes frequently about belonging, hoping to help others find their people and their place. She resides in northern Indiana with husband’s dog, Ruby.