DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale hugs husband at wedding in field
New Perspectives

Rule of Life

Every year, I make New Year’s Resolutions.

Actually, that’s not totally true. The year Shawn was dying, I didn’t make any resolutions. I didn’t spend even one second thinking about them. I just wanted him to stay alive, which I don’t think really qualifies as a “resolution”.

But the next year, I made a resolution, one that was quite straightforward. I called it the “Year of Yes” – something I had heard of online, and resolved to say “yes” to everything that I could. It was an attempt to create a new life for myself, a year after Shawn’s death. It didn’t work out perfectly, but it helped me move towards something that felt like happiness.

Every year after that, I’ve set new resolutions and goals. So as we started 2023, I sat down to think about how I wanted the year to go.

I had just read this article by Tish Harrison Warren called “This Year, Try Organizing Your Life Like a Monk“. In it, she discusses the idea of a “rule of life” which she explains is, “an overarching plan governing your daily practices, habits and routines. It is not a resolution, but rather a comprehensive way to take stock of how you spend your time so that you can be the person you want to be.”

Chris and I discussed what it would mean to write out our “rule of life”. It felt a bit prescriptive, to be honest. Did I really need to set our how I was going to spend my first waking hour and how often I would pick up my phone? That sounded like a drag.

But as we talked, I started to think it might not be such a bad idea. How do I want my life to look in 2023? And what would it mean to make my life look like I imagined it?

The future is a funny thing for a widow. I want to plan, to know that everything is going to be okay. But also, I know that the future is so uncertain, and really anything can happen. How can you make a “rule of life” – something so prescriptive – when you can’t know that you’re guaranteed to make it through the year? Aren’t vague goals better, as you can change them as the times change? My resolution to say “yes” to everything I could worked well for me, because there were many times when either practically or emotionally, I couldn’t say “yes” and thus didn’t need to follow my resolution.

But what the “rule of life” asks is for me to write down what I want from life (a bigger, vaguer goal) and then say exactly what I’ll do to get there. That feels pretty definitive. I’m simply not aiming for some big idea, but rather saying, “this is the life I want” and this is what I’m going to do to get it.

That’s a hard thing to say, because what if the world takes it away?

But you know what? I’ve decided to do it. Chris and I are in the process of thinking through our “rule of life” and putting down what it means to set out our goals and then try and follow them in our daily lives.

It’s unsettling, at least a little bit. What are the big things I want? What does it mean to live a life that I define for myself?

Wednesday mornings are our mornings together without the kids. Chris and I go on an early walk, get breakfast and talk about everything. We’ve been planning our “rule of life” at that time, and we decided that we wanted to prioritize our time just the two of us in the new year. It’s something that I really value, especially as a widow. I know how easy it can be to look back after someone is gone and think, “why didn’t we take more time for ourselves?”

As part of our specifics, we decided that “Wednesday walk and breakfast” would be part of the way that we would solidify our couple time. When we return to the States, we’ll figure out how to do that in a new context. It felt like an easy goal when we defined it.

A week went by. A new friend – one I really want to make a good friend – texted to see if I could hang out. The only time we could find in the near future was a Wednesday morning.

I hesitated. I really want to see this friend. Plus, it would just be one Wednesday, right?

But that’s not how the “rule of life” is supposed to work, not really. Sure, if it was a true emergency, we could reschedule our Wednesday couple time. But this wasn’t an emergency.

I pushed back my coffee with my new friend, and Chris and I spent Wednesday together.

I bet, when I look back on my life in Medellin and wonder what I could have done differently, there are many things I would have changed.

But not Wednesdays. That’s something I’m glad we put down on paper.

Our “rule of life” is not going to save the world or maybe even fundamentally change our lives. But it helps me remember what is so clear to many widows everywhere in those early days after loss: focus on what matters.

Follow your rule of life.

Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.