I hate that question. But it's always going to be there, isn't it? When you meet people, it's one of the standard getting-to-know-you questions and you just can't avoid it.
I guess if I had a "normal" career it would be easy to sidestep the "I'm widowed" answer, which I'll admit, I used a lot in the beginning after Mike died. I didn't really know what else to say, and it had the doubly-useful ingredient that it stopped people from nosing around much more. Then for awhile I tried to say I was a writer, but people would ask what I was writing...well I'm writing about my late husband, and grief...so there it was. I couldn't avoid it.
After years of hopping around various jobs and careers from Washington, DC to Hollywood to Hawaii, I've done so many things it's hard to say, what it is I really do. I do a lot of things. I've done a lot of things.
But the question in a "normal" social setting begs a "normal" answer - the kind people expect. I think it's kind of like when someone asks, how are you doing? And they expect to hear, fine! or, good! and not...it sucks I'm miserable I miss my husband I'm so sad I want to die and I just sit on my couch crying and stop asking me questions and mind your own business.
I'm grateful for what I have, because I have really needed this time to be at home and grieve, and write - writing has been an important therapy for me. I know a lot of widowed people don't have that chance...I know a lot of us are forced back into the workforce right away, a lot of us have to get second jobs, a lot of us have to move and make big changes way too soon because of the financial repercussions of an unexpected death.
I have had time. But I know I'm going to have to pick myself up here pretty darn soon and figure out what the heck I'm going to do with the rest of my life. There's going to have to be more money coming in. There's going to have to be a plan. There just isn't one yet.
That part sucks, being 46. I thought I had things figured out, when Mike was alive. We had his pension and were going to live out our years quietly, and together. His death brought that expectation to an abrupt and shocking end.
I briefly attended a group therapy for widows and one of them, a feisty 80-something-year-old, once shared with the group her worry that she didn't know what she was going to do with the rest of her life. At the time, it made a lot of us laugh - a welcomed, relief-studded reaction to this aged but lively member of our group. I'll never forget that, and it did put things in perspective, in that moment.
But, a couple of weeks ago a new friend asked the dreaded question once again. So, what do you do? And before I knew it, my reality poured out. But instead of being put off, instead of treating me like a victim, or moving away from me slowly and carefully like so many do, she said cheerfully, well, do you want a job?
Hm. Well, kind of, yes, I do. I'd been half-heartedly looking around but it's a very, verysmall town and opportunity is limited and I wasn't sure if I was ready to be out there, perky, unafflicted; able to concentrate..."normal". But I asked her more, and she asked me more, and before I knew it, I was hired. Kind of on the spot.
So the past couple weeks has seen a sort of big change for me. I don't have a powerful new career or anything. It's just a part-time job at a small clothing store. But for me right now, it's perfect. It's not even all about the money just yet, though it will pay a few utilities, and some groceries. It's about having a reason to get up and out. Having somewhere to go a few days a week. Feeling needed, and responsible for something again. Creating something new.
I'm surprised at myself a little. I wasn't sure if I was ready for it, but I am finding I actually am. That must be a good thing. Maybe it will give me the courage to look a little deeper too, and figure out a bigger plan for my future. I'm not sure what that is yet, which is hard, but maybe it will come to me. Maybe I'm creating a space for it now.
There's also the added benefit that when I'm asked, so, what do you do? I don't have to give them the whole rigmarole about being widowed, about how I got where I am, about what I've done and what I'm not doing...that I was married to an amazing man but now he's gone...I can just say, I work at a dress shop. If I want to volunteer more, I can. But I don't have to.
For such a small job, it feels like a huge shift.