When I first heard you were coming out with a new book about loss and resilience called “Option B” I was so excited and couldn’t wait for your next dose of wisdom. Now you were part of my club—the sisterhood of widows—and I thought the timing could not be more perfect.
When I first held the book in my hand, I was thinking, “How in the world did this woman find the time to write a book while juggling two kids and a very public career, when there are days I’m just too tired to shower?”
I had assumed I was your target audience: the mid 30s widow from a Jewish community with a lively pre-adolescent daughter. I needed something to give me that push— I felt like my life had become stagnant.
Your book implies that life is full of choices, and that our challenges ultimately make us more resilient.
But you see, I’m resilient because I literally have no other choice. If I have a rough day and opt to stay in bed all day, then what happens? If my daughter doesn’t get to school on time, I don’t make it to work, groceries don’t wind up in the pantry, the book report doesn’t get edited, someone misses a piano lesson, the laundry doesn’t get done, no one eats anything substantial and then the day is over.
Even then, the next day comes and maybe I’m feeling better, but then there are no clean uniform shirts, there’s no fresh milk, the homework assignment will be handed in late and the dishes are piled in the sink and they will stare at me throughout the day. Not to mention the work that has piled up at my office from deciding that a mental health day would actually be productive.
Sheryl, I know that you know you are blessed and there are critics who might even say you are entitled. I would not go that far. But what’s the plan for those of us who are long past Option B—up to Option Z?
What’s the strategy when your job is totally dead end? For example, what if you were never the best student—a horrible test-taker (who loved learning), but it didn’t matter. Because the winter break before your last semester of college you met a great guy with great potential, so you were okay with a job and a family and not so much of a career.
But now you’re a widow in your mid 30s and you know you are not reaching your maximum potential—and earning under $50k a year is a strong indicator that you must be capable of more— because no one in your social circle who’s around your age who works as many hours as you do earns such a pathetic amount of money. Not to mention, you are constantly asking family and friends to bail you out when things get bad financially.
What’s the upside to such situation?
The only upside that matters—being the mother to an amazing child who seems to run on auto-pilot. But she’s not really on auto-pilot. I have, to the exclusion of everything else, built her a safe home where she has the ability to know herself and be a confident and productive member of her middle-school society. It’s because of that effort that she’s so healthy and smart and cute and well-dressed and polite and grateful—and just an all-around great kid.
So why am I writing to you? This week has been particularly worse than others, because in the past ten days, I have attended three funerals and have gone to five shiva houses. Some of these were paying respects to people who had full lives and died well into their 80s, but others are more tragic and left behind more widows and lots of children.
Everywhere I seem to turn or anyone I speak with, one of these tragedies comes up in conversation. And I sit and listen to others lament about how tragic these deaths were. But I know how long the consequences of these losses can last.
My life is infinitely harder than it was 10 years ago. Now, I need to remind people that my husband had cancer and died at 25? Why do I have to remind people that there are nights when my daughter is away that I don’t speak to another person for hours on end? Or that dating is awful—not that I’ve been on a date in many months.
The one thing I do have, that I gained from my experience, is sensitivity. I have learned the hard way that most of the time that presence is far more productive than saying anything at all. I have learned that if you offer something to someone, be it a lending ear, a dinner out, a walk around the block or even a trip to a vacation house, you should stand by that word. I constantly make sure that I don’t take on too much or ever make an offer that I can’t fulfill with a full heart.
But I learned not to have the same expectation of people around me. Sometimes I just wish someone would call and invite me to go for a walk around my neighborhood. I don’t need cocktails at a swanky lounge in Tribeca. I just want a little bit of company without needing to put lipstick on.
Maybe that acceptance of my need to rely on what I can do, not what others can do for me, is Option Z. I’ve tried to make Options B through Y work. These were likely the horrible career choices and relationships with dysfunctional men.
Option Z life can suck the life out of you so much that you have no choice but to take one small step at a time and just deal, and when there is truly no other choice, ask for help. So what makes life with Option Z even tolerable, let alone worth all the work?
My daughter still thinks her life is Option A+. So there, guess I’m doing something right.
With warmest regards,