Thursday, June 26, 2014

So, what do you do?

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 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.

I live.

I survive.

I am.

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 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, very small 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.


  1. That question didn't bother me mainly because whenever I got when my wife was alive and I tried to explain, soon the eyes would glaze over and people would go to sleep. So instead I would just reply, "I work for IBM."

    What I dreaded was the, "how are you?" Most people expect the standard reply of fine or okay. I just wanted to yell back, "my wife is dead how do you think I am."

    1. I second that, Paul. It also bugs me when people say "So, are you dating yet?" I know they mean well but I just want to scream "WE WERE MARRIED FOR 20 YEARS AND WE DATED FOR TWO YEARS. I WAS ONE YEAR SHORT OF SPENDING 1/2 OF MY ENTIRE LIFE WITH ONE MAN! DO YOU THINK I'M READY TO DATE!?!?"

      Whoo! That felt good. I know I want to give love a chance again some day but I'm not ready yet. Just like most days, I'm not fine or even ok but I still give that out as my standard response.
      For now, I just brace myself when any conversation starts with "So, what do... (How are...) (Have you...)


    2. Thank you for sharing that, Paul. Although I wouldn't wish our terrible club on my worst enemy, it's somehow comforting that we have many of the same feelings and experiences.

  2. My first job after Dawn Marie died and I left the brokerage that we started and owned together, was as a front desk clerk at a hotel that a friend of mine managed. Looking back Stephanie, it was just what I needed. It was a perfect stepping stone to transition back into the real world. I'm back at the brokerage now of course, in fact I'm sitting at her old desk right now, but those six months spent easing back into the real world at the hotel were just what I needed. I am so happy for you, I think this will be just what you need too :-)

    1. Well that is interesting. Thank you for sharing that, Glenn. I guess we all need a kind of low-stress stepping stone.

  3. Hello, oh so true.,the how r u question? I wanted to say somewhere u never want to be.., however.... If u r married u to will someday wear my shoes..u hit it right on, how do I think Iam.

    1. Yes it's somewhere no one would want to be. No one wants to wear our shoes but when they find themselves walking our path then they'll get it too. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I always find myself nodding along when you write, ive had so many of those awkward, 'im a widow' conversations before, I think this job sounds perfect, enough interaction that isnt too deep and probing, because sometimes we just need a bit of routine again. xxx

  5. I know what you mean about the job giving you something to say when people ask what you are doing. Six months after my husband died I rented a booth in an antique mall and that gave me a sense of purpose that was lacking in my widowhood.

    Your stepping stone job gives you breathing room and buys you time to think about how you want to design your future. And that's a blessing in your young life.

  6. Very important step! Congratulations!

  7. So happy to read you - you are a kindred spirit! I am widowed almost 2 years now and have also found it healing to step out slowly. And to write ( ) Mine was a small consignment shop on Tuesdays & Thursdays. It is funny how those opportunities show up just when you need them.