My “Ask a Widow” column was really just an experiment when I started it over a year ago. Did people actually want my advice? Wasn’t this blog supposed to just be about my life?
But the questions came in – slowly at first, and then in increasing numbers as time went on. I heard from widows who just wanted to vent and non-widows who were trying to connect with widows and all sorts of people who couldn’t figure out what to do about parenting or work or finding love again. Sometimes the people who wrote me just wanted some hope (“please tell me if gets easier!”) but other times they wanted very specific advice.
Here’s a few (edited) examples:
I always wanted to live on the beach, but my wife liked the city where we lived. She died a year ago, and now I want to move somewhere warm, but I’d be leaving all of our friends and the cemetery where she’s buried. Should I do it?
I met a lovely man online a month ago. He is a widower, but it’s only been six months since his wife died. He says he really likes me and that I am very important to him, but he seems conflicted. Should I keep talking to him, or forget about him?
I got offered a new job. Before my husband died, I would have taken it. Now, I feel like I shouldn’t because I need to be home with our young child. But, wow, this new job would be better money and a much-needed confidence boost. Am I stupid for even considering it?
Here’s the thing: every time someone writes me something like this, I write back the following very unhelpful phrase: “it depends.” Because of course it does! I mean, in the first example, how far are you moving, and do you have a support system in the place you are moving? And in the second example, have you asked the widower if he’s looking for something serious with you? And in the last example, what are all the pros and cons with this new job?
I don’t know the people who write me, so it’s often hard to give advice. I can take a guess, but obviously all widows aren’t the same, and all situations aren’t the same. I can only say what I’d do if it were me (I probably wouldn’t move to the beach, because I want to be with a tight-knit community; I probably would try dating a widower like the one described; and I’m not sure at all what I would do about the new job.) But the thing is: they aren’t asking what I should do, they are asking what they should do.
But as I’ve tried to answer more and more of these sorts of questions, I’ve realized one thing: I don’t have the answers. But for some of these questions, I don’t think people write me asking for answers.
I think they’re asking for permission.
It’s silly, of course, to actually ask for permission to do something from a perfect stranger, so no one actually poses questions like that. But I feel it in these questions: is this okay? Am I doing the right thing?
And the truthful answer is: I don’t know.
But YOU do.
So if this is you, and you’re wondering what the right thing is to do, I will answer you with my favorite phrase, “it depends.” But if you’re writing me – taking the time to draft a message on the internet to someone thousands of miles away – I think you do know the answer. And if you actually know what you want to do, but are just feeling unsure about it, I have an answer for you:
I give you permission. That’s stupid to say, of course, because you don’t need my permission. But maybe you just need someone’s permission. And if that’s the case, I’ll give you mine.
Maybe it will turn out to be a bad idea. Maybe the move to the beach will make you lonely, maybe the widower will turn out to be emotionally unavailable, maybe the new job will be overwhelming. It’s a risk to try something new, and it’s not always a good idea.
But if you want to try something, and you just need someone to echo back what you already know in your heart, I’ll do that right now.
Go for it. Take this risk. Follow your dreams or whatever it is that they say to graduates in their caps and gowns.
I don’t have the answers a lot of the time. But neither does anyone else. It might not be a good idea.
But it also could change your life.