For the past few weeks, Tommy has continued to practice “making predictions” during his quiet reading time. Sometimes, he gets it right (“I predict that the dog is going to rescue the little boy!”) but sometimes he still cannot grasp what will come next. Claire and Austin have been trying to help him, but that doesn’t stop the wild predictions Tommy sometimes creates in his head. “Maybe….” he might say, a slight smile on his face, “the dog decides to blast into outer space!”
So while it seems like Tommy can understand this idea of “making predictions” it’s still not something that comes naturally to him. His life doesn’t revolve around the future. Rather, his concerns center around whether he gets ice cream after dinner or if his brother will play Legos with him. On the most part, Tommy doesn’t imagine what life will be like in a week or a month or a year. He lives almost totally in the present.
I mean, if you’re 6, anything could happen in the future. At this point in his short life, Tommy has lived through the death of his father and a global pandemic, so his mind can think of all sorts of crazy things if you ask him. And since anything can happen, it’s really hard to make a prediction about the future.
It can be a beautiful thing, really. It’s what makes childhood such a magical time.
But we grow up, and we learn to make predictions. For years, I could easily imagine the future – I knew where the kids would go to elementary school and I had summer trips on the calendar. I envisioned dropping Claire off at college and the fun adventures I’d take with Shawn as an empty nester. Making predictions was easy.
Once Shawn died, I couldn’t do it anymore. How could I possibly predict my future? How could anyone predict anything, really?
It’s a feeling that I know other widows share. It’s not that we return to a child-like view of the world, one where everything could be possible and thus predictions are hard. Rather, widows often go from a life where predictions are generally easy to make to one where thinking about any sort of future seems impossible. If your husband can die before you’re 40, then anything can happen. The future – once so clear – becomes clouded. And that can make a widow feel really stuck.
When he was practicing predictions, Tommy said, “I predict that someday I’ll be able to fly!” We all laughed, because it was really cute. We reminded him that predictions were supposed to be about something that actually could happen in real life. That made him think, and throughout the past few weeks he’s been telling us about his predictions – some realistic, some not.
But slowly, he’s gotten better at it.
I think this sort of practice – the kind that Tommy’s teacher assigned, where you read a story and try and imagine the future – is something that widows often must do. Because it takes practice to start imagining a future again. For me, it took many months to really be able to think about what my life would be like without Shawn. And if I’m honest, it took almost a year and a half before I could really make plans for my life without a partner. Even now, almost three years later, there are times when I find it hard to make a prediction.
But it’s gotten easier, just as practice made it easier for Tommy to predict the future. In fact, one evening after a long day of homeschool and work, I came down to the kitchen and started chatting with Chris. He was telling me about Tommy’s predictions that day, and we laughed at his child-like view of the world.
“He did make some wild predictions again today,” Chris said, “but he made one I really liked, too.”
“What was it?” I asked.
“He said, ‘I predict….that you will be my dad someday!'”
Chris looked right at me, a smile on his face. I smiled back.
For once, it was a future I could see.