When my former business partner and I ran a small company, we sometimes felt like we were in over our heads. Decisions weren't always easy, and the path we thought we were on seemed to change on a daily basis. So whenever we had a conundrum of any kind, we would joke and ask each other, "WWJD?" The "J" in our case, was my husband, Joel -- "what would Joel do?"
Joel single-handedly made up our advisory board. He was not only full of common sense, but he was smart, thoughtful and believed in us more than we ever could have believed in ourselves. When we were stuck and confused, or excited and elated, he would calmly offer sage wisdom and advice about what lay before us... and he was always right.
It has been difficult not having him here as I navigate these waters of widowhood. He would know what to do, what to say and how to handle all of these strange, new things I'm experiencing as a widow at mid-life, raising a teenage daughter on my own. He would also know how to handle the myriad of things people say to me in their attempt at being kind, supportive and comforting.
I recognize that some people see me as "poor Melissa." I can tell that others see me and think "I don't know how she does it!" I am definitely a blank screen for everyone's projections. Lots of people need me to be OK. Some need me to be sad -- aren't all widows supposed to be sad? Others seem happy for my happiness, although slightly bewildered -- are widows supposed to be happy?!
People are confused by me. I am, too! There is a wide range of emotions that coexists at all times -- sadness, profound loss, excitement, love... I still cry. A lot. But I also laugh, I have fun, I am living.
I understand that people approach me with their own fears, anxieties, concerns, always imagining themselves in my shoes -- more of a collective WWID -- what would I do? ...Would I panic? Would I crumble? Would I be able to go on?!
It's a different kind of energy coming at me everyday. So as I have these encounters, I wonder, WWJD?:
- I ran into a mom I know at Trader Joe's, and I saw her putting that kale blend into her cart. Always in search of new dinner ideas, I said "You making something yummy with that?" She started to answer, "Oh I just..." and then she saw me. And realized it was me. And her "Oh" turned into an "Ohhh." She reached for my hand, "I don't know how you're up and out every day," she said, "If it were me..." and then she started to cry. She squeezed my hand, gave me God's blessing, and left me standing there alone while she continued to do her shopping.
- On one of our first dates, I brought Antonio to a party. I ran into that divorcee who lives in my "village." She was her usual, friendly self. But right after I introduced her to Antonio, she pulled me aside and said, "You're here on a date?! Wait, when did Joel die, again?"
- A friend of a friend is going through a divorce. We were all talking one night, she looked at me and said, "You are so lucky your husband died. You never had to live through what I'm dealing with."
I know.... lucky, right? It's funny, I've been told a lot lately how "lucky" I am:
Lucky to have an outlet for my writing -- I'm writing about being a widow.
Lucky in love -- There's a new man in my life... because my husband died.
Lucky to have a flexible work schedule -- The biggest job I have now is raising my daughter. Alone. There is no flexibility in that.
So, I try not to cringe, or laugh or cry when these things are spoken. I try to be accepting of this minefield of awkwardness. Even in the midst of these exchanges, which continue to happen with frequency, I know that people just don't know what to say or do... So when I consider WWJD? I know that:
Joel would be gracious.
Joel would be kind.
Joel wouldn't judge.
He was, without question, my better half.
As I work towards feeling whole again, I remember these things, I remember my husband and his infinite patience.... and I just keep moving forward.