Every night at dinner, we do highs and lows. Last week, Tommy had a big low, and we all talked about it. That day, he had a math assessment. He’s in first grade, so this assessment didn’t seem too difficult. He just had to do basic subtraction. But he struggled, and we could hear him sigh – and then cry – from the dining room table where he does virtual school. We texted his teacher about it, and she was kind and loving and gave us some strategies to help him. We tried to encourage him and he finally finished and felt relatively accomplished. We were glad he persevered through it.
At dinner that night, Chris said, “Tommy, we’re so proud of how you did during your math assessment today. You struggled with the answers, but ultimately what did you do?”
We waited for his answer, thinking he’d say he “kept working hard” or something like that. Instead, Tommy looked at Chris and said, “I just picked random numbers!”
We all thought this was hilarious. Rather than say that he persevered, Tommy admitted that he had no idea what he was doing. He hit a roadblock – one that seemed insurmountable – and he ultimately decided that the only option was to pick random numbers.
And wow – I’ve never empathized with my 7-year-old more. I mean, we’ve all been there, even without widowhood, haven’t we? Those times when life gets to be too much, and you feel like the task at hand is impossible? I know I felt it a lot more frequently after I lost Shawn.
But Tommy’s response also made me think. I mean, sometimes isn’t perseverance just picking random numbers?
Because when things are hard – like really, really hard – there’s not always an easy way to know what you’re supposed to do next. Hypothetically, let’s say your partner dies, and you manage to make it through the first awful months without losing your job. But you wake up one day and aren’t sure if this is the job that you should be doing, now that your partner isn’t there to support you through it. There are other jobs you could do. Should you take the leap?
Or maybe you are newly widowed, and you know that you need therapy. Do you try and find a therapist who’s like you in some way, or try something alternative, something you’ve never done before?
Or maybe it’s been a while since you lost your partner, and you’re ready to find someone new. Do you look for someone who was just like the man or woman you married all those years ago? Or do you go out with the person who is really different from anyone you’ve ever known?
The thing is, sometimes there’s an easy answer. Sometimes the job or the therapist or the coffee date is so obviously a good or a bad choice that it’s not hard to make a decision. Other times it’s more difficult, but if you think hard enough, you can figure out what’s best.
But sometimes there’s no obvious way forward. Sometimes there’s no way to know what you should do next.
I did not make up the tagline for this blog (“there’s no handbook for how to do this”). My friend Caitlin, who set up everything for me, put it on the main page and told me I could change it anytime. I never did. The more I wrote, the more it made sense.
I had no idea how to handle so many parts of widowhood. Honestly, I often used Tommy’s strategy when I made decisions – even big decisions.
Eventually, Tommy will learn subtraction and be able to perform it with ease. Just like eventually, many actions and decisions become easier for me, and for other widows I know. But in the beginning, there’s something to be said for just trying something new.
There’s something to be said for simply picking random numbers.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.