It had been a really hard week at my school. An incident had shocked my students and made them fearful and frustrated. I stood in the back of the auditorium, listening to our head of school talk to the students. I sighed. I was about a year into widowhood and everything seemed hard. I didn’t need anything else on my plate. The head of school talked about the importance of holding space for each other and reaching out to teachers if students needed more support. The kids were listening, but it wasn’t an easy talk.
At one point, our head of school paused his speech. I think he was attempting to steer the conversation to a place of understanding. I waited for what he would say next. At that moment, he looked up and said something I’ll never forget:
“Hard things are hard.”
At the time, I remember tilting my head and thinking, “of course they are! How overly simplistic!”
But as he kept talking, it made more sense. He wasn’t trying to diminish the moment and dismiss students’ pain. He wasn’t trying to say that kids shouldn’t feel sad or scared. He was acknowledging that we were in a really tough moment, and that it was okay if the students and teachers felt like it was a hard moment. It was okay that people in that auditorium were scared and sad and hurting.
He was saying something very important. He was telling a group of teenagers a concept that we sometimes want to forget:
Hard things shouldn’t be easy.
I know. It’s a pretty obvious concept. And yet, I think often in this world we try and sugar coat hard things. We try and say that really terrible moments are not actually that terrible. We try and diminish the pain in the moment.
I was no stranger to this sugarcoating in the early days of my grief. Mostly, other people tried to allow me space to feel pain, but there were some who wanted to sanitize my grief and diminish what I was going through. And there was always someone online or somewhere else that wanted me to know that it could be a lot worse.
I mean, I knew that it could be a lot worse. I could have lost much more than my husband. But it didn’t mean that my loss, my suffering and my pain wasn’t bad. It was still really, really hard.
Still, I internalized some of this sugarcoating attitude. When I went back to work and I’d see other teachers in the hallway and they would ask, “how are you?” I’d often reply, “I’m good!” even though I was nowhere near good. In a lot of ways, it was easier to pretend that my hard thing wasn’t really that hard.
But you know what? It was hard. It’s still hard. Because hard things are hard.
At least once a week, and sometimes much more frequently, I get a private note from a new widow that says something like, “I just lost my husband last month. I’m trying my best to put on a brave face for my children, but it’s so hard. I can barely get myself dressed in the morning, and my kids eat nothing but chicken nuggets. Also, the dishwasher just broke and I’m worried I’m doing a terrible job at work.”
I never know exactly what to say, but I always write back a version of this: “I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. It’s so terrible. The early days are really, really hard. I can tell you that it will get easier some day, but right now, it’s really difficult. Go easy on yourself.”
What I’m trying to say in these notes is the same thing that I heard back in that auditorium over a year ago: hard things are hard.
I think this idea is particularly relevant today. Yes, many of you reading this blog post may be healthy and safe and have full pantries. We may all be able to recognize that things could be a lot worse. And that’s important, because as a community (and a country) it’s important to reach out to the most vulnerable of us.
But facing quarantine during a pandemic is a hard thing, no matter what the circumstances. Dealing with all the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic – whether it’s worrying about our elderly relatives or our job security or the relentlessness of homeschooling – it is hard. In fact, it can feel damn near impossible. And if you’re doing it as a widow or a single parent or someone who is living in an even more impossible circumstance, those difficulties are even more intense.
So for all of us right now, I’m going to say this: it’s not easy. We’re all just trying to make it through. We don’t have to smile through it or tell everyone that life is okay. It’s not.
Hard things are hard.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.