“Do you have kids?” the woman at the salon asked me.
It was an innocuous question – one that I’ve asked other people a million times. But I knew where it might go. “I do,” I said, “three of them. All under 10.”
“Wow,” she said, “that’s a lot of kids to handle.”
“Well, yes, especially since I’m a single mom,” I said.
“No kidding,” she said without pause, “I’m a single mom too. And it’s not easy.”
A kindred spirit, of sorts, and here she was, giving me a facial. She looked like she was around my age, so I thought I’d just tell her the whole story. “My husband died in January, so I’m new to the whole single parenting thing.”
She paused. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
I thanked her, and then said little. I had a brief moment when I worried that she wouldn’t say anything else for the entire hour, and I’d feel totally awkward. But she did not do that. “How are you doing?” she asked.
I talked briefly about raising my kids and single parenting in general. She added her own stories. “I’m trying to take a little time for myself,” I said, “that’s why I’m here.”
“Well, you should do that,” she said, “and more than once a year!” We both laughed. “So,” she said, and her tone changed, “have you tried dating yet?”
Seeing my expression, she added, “or, is it too soon?”
“Um,” I said, a bit uncomfortable but unable to extract myself from the situation, “that’s just hard to contemplate right now. And everyone I know who’s tried dating at my age has found it terrible.”
“Well, I get that fear,” she said, “but it’s great. You’ll have a great time – really! You get to go out to dinner and not think about your kids and maybe even meet someone really cute!”
I liked her. I liked that she asked questions no one else would ask and that she was glowingly positive. The optimism reminded me of myself, or at least myself years before Shawn died. I smiled at her and then we sat in silence for a while.
“What was he like?” she asked, “Your husband, I mean.”
Is there any better question? “Oh, he was wonderful,” I said. “The best. He ran a think-tank downtown but what everyone remembers about him are the great parties he threw.”
She nodded her head, and so I continued to talk and talk. I told her about how Shawn was with our kids and the great places we went together before they were born. I told her about his big hearty laugh and the funny jokes he told. I probably took up most of the rest of that hour telling her about Shawn, and she responded accordingly.
Finally, the facial was done and it was time for me to go. “You are going to be okay,” she said, even though I hadn’t implied otherwise. “I can tell in your voice. You had a great 15 years with your husband. That will take you far.”
I smiled and said, “yes, it was a great 15 years.”
She looked right at me. “You are making it, that much is obvious.”
I thanked her, and went home. Later, I thought back about why my interaction with her felt so healing. She asked about my life, rather than stay silent after learning that I was a widow. She encouraged me for the future. And she asked about Shawn and listened while I told her.
It was wholly refreshing.
Next time I meet someone who is grieving, I will say this: “Tell me about your person.”
And then I will listen.