“You’re awfully young to be a widow,” the jeweler said to me with a shocked expression on his face.
I was at a jewelry shop looking at new ring settings. I’ve been thinking about getting my wedding ring re-made into something that I could wear on my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, but I figured talking to a jeweler could help me figure that out.
Obviously, I had to tell my life story to the jeweler, and I found out quickly that he was one of those people who said exactly what was in his head. I mean, I’m sure a lot of people think about my age when they hear I’m a widow, but damn if he didn’t say it out loud.
“Tell me about it,” I said back to him. And then just to add to the shock value, I said, “I’ve got three kids under ten that I’m now raising on my own.”
He almost fell over. He tried to recover, and he showed me some of their custom jewelry, but he could barely make small talk and I couldn’t help him through his awkwardness.
Instead, I went outside and sobbed at a bus stop on Connecticut Avenue.
This moment wasn’t something that usually happens to me. In fact, I’ve gotten really good at helping other people manage their emotions when I’m talking to them about my life. When people ask how I am, I almost always respond with something like, “it’s been really hard, but we are doing okay. I’m so lucky to have the kids.” That’s true, of course, but it’s not the entire story.
Really, it sucks. Being a young widow is the worst. Being a single parent is also awful. Together, the combination is almost breaking me.
Here’s an example. A few hours before I went down to the jewelry shop, I’d gotten home from a trip with the kids. I was upstairs unpacking and I heard Tommy yelling downstairs. Claire came up. “He’s yelling for Daddy,” she said.
I went downstairs. “Where’s Daddy?” Tommy asked.
“Oh baby,” I said, “Daddy isn’t here because he died.”
“Okay,” he said, and went back to playing with his toys. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.
Claire saw my face. “Are you okay, mom?” she asked.
“I’m okay,” I said. And yet again, it wasn’t really the entire story.
“Mom,” she said, sitting down, “I want to tell you something, but you can’t put it on your blog.”
“I promise,” I said, and she told me what was on her mind.
I won’t write it here, but what she said broke my heart.
Somehow, the combination of my kids’ feelings and the jewelry shop made something click in me. I was angry and sad about my life and so I just sat there at the Connecticut Avenue bus stop with tears streaming down my face. No one stopped to say anything to me, though what could they have said? Still, I wished someone would have. I didn’t want solitude in that moment. I wanted to share my grief.
Later that day (yes, this all happened in a 24 hour period!) I went to the grocery store and ran into an old acquaintance. She’s a kind woman, and I hadn’t seen her in about a year. “I just want to say that I’m so sorry,” she said.
I said thank you and then she asked, “so, how’s it been going?”
That question again. I guess if it had been another day, I might have said something thoughtful and balanced. But I couldn’t.
“It’s terrible, actually,” I said, “Single parenting is the worst and I had a really hard summer.”
I don’t think that was what she thought I’d say. She was kind about it, but how do you respond to that, especially if you’re just an acquaintance of mine? We parted soon thereafter.
Here’s what I discovered that day: I can’t keep saying that things are going “relatively well” on those days when they aren’t. When someone reminds me of how much I’ve lost at such a young age, I might just cry openly on the streets of DC. When my baby can’t remember that his dad is gone, I might just tell the next adult I see that I’m having an awful day. And when my daughter needs to confide in me, I might confide in her too. She needs to see her mama be strong, but she also needs to know that I hurt with her too.
Because we all hurt. We just don’t tell each other in the grocery store.