Since going public with my dating relationship on Facebook, I’ve heard from lots of widows. They have been kind, gracious and most of all, curious. These brilliant women who have been through enormous levels of loss and sorrow, and who are still processing the way their lives and expectations have changed since their spouse died, want mostly to know if there’s hope that moving on is possible. They ask me things like:How did you know it was time to date again? How do you feel being with someone other than your husband? How can you trust that you won’t go through loss again or that if you did, you would survive a second time?
These questions capture so many angles of the fear and hope that surround widows and the wondering that is attached to nearly every single element of our future, but especially our romantic future.
Here’s where I answer all the questions definitively in a bullet-pointed, well-reasoned, intellectually honest way.
Except I don’t. Because if the question is: “Should I or should I not look for love again?” my answer is: I have no idea. But I have discovered a couple of things I think most widows will need to do, be or believe if they’re going to swim in these waters. Feel free to take or leave ‘em. I’ve only done this once myself so I could have this entirely wrong for you, but this is what has been true for me:
You will need to be brave.
Because it’s hard to trust again. Harder still, to start over again. If you had a brilliant marriage, it will be hard to imagine how anything could be as wonderful. If you had a difficult marriage, it will be hard to imagine that trying again could be anything but heartbreaking. Since you’ve been through loss, it will be hard to imagine how you would survive that loss again. You will need to be very brave.
You will need to tune out some voices.
Many people will have an opinion on when or how or with whom you begin this new season of your life. Their opinions will vary wildly. You will need to determine which voices will be invited into your decision making process. I invited four. They know every single detail of my story, his story and our story, and they have been my sanity. Beyond those four, there are maybe a dozen others who matter very much to me and have been bought along at various points as our relationship developed. Outside that circle of 12-20 people are about a million other opinions which I have come to view as the Cheap Seats. The Cheap Seats are not filled with bad people, but they are filled with people who cannot possibly know all the details or angst or prayer that has gone into this decision and so their opinions – like a broken clock – may be right twice a day, but they cannot be counted upon to inform our choices.
You will need to allow yourself room for mistakes.
Because you will make them. I have made plenty. These mistakes are humbling, but not fatal unless you let them push you into the land of no-risk, no-reward. This summer I discovered something very big about myself: I had been looking at the second half of my life as the time when I would be so wise and experienced that I would be virtually fail-proof (and wouldn’t that be such a relief to my friends and kids and stuff?) One day I had this awakening: I don’t want to live that way. I want to use the resources and wisdom I’ve gained in my 51 years to try something new, to live with all my heart, to lean into the great adventure that is ahead of me. I don’t want to live just avoiding mistakes. So, I said yes to dating, yes to a month in Italy this fall and yes to loads of smaller but still exciting opportunities and I have never been happier.
You may have to be willing to suspend an old mindset (or a couple of them.)
Like…an arbitrary measure of time you’ve attached to how long one should wait to date after being widowed. Or…the need to know for certain that someone is THE one before having a cup of coffee with that someone. Or…that dating is somehow unfaithful to the memory of your first husband. And I would especially suggest suspending the mindset that I have heard more than any coming from widows: “What will my friends/kids/church/coworkers think if I start dating again?” (And the probable answer to that, by the way, is: some will think it’s awesome and some will think it’s awful.) You don’t have to get rid of those mindsets forever, but you may need to suspend them while considering the possibility that you formed them with less information than you have now. You can always go back and worry what everyone thinks about your decisions later.
You will need to give yourself permission to love the adventure.
Because the thing is: Dating is really fun, unless it isn’t. And, like anything, whether it is or isn’t fun often has so much to do with how we view it. It can be a necessary evil, wherein the world is filled with frogs, dogs and no princes (aka: no one who measures up to the memory of our beloved), or it can be a daring adventure, where dates in and of themselves are an opportunity to discover things about us and about the world. Maybe they’ll also produce a fun new friendship, or a run at romance or even the ever-elusive True Love. Regardless of the end result, acknowledging that you will enjoy this season of life rather than resenting it or feeling guilty about it is a good way to set yourself up for success. And I know you didn’t ask for it, but here’s my opinion from the Cheap Seats: You are brave and strong and beautiful. You deserve an epic adventure.
You will not need to leave your memories or your sorrow behind.
Since I’ve talked about dating, people have said it’s good to see me moving on. But, no. I haven’t moved on from Steve or from sorrow. I’ve found that grief is pretty light-on-its-feet. It has a way of finding us in every season. My memories of Steve are less sharp and painful now, but occasionally still quite achey. It is a testament to the good heart of the man I am dating that he has never once resented my need to talk about Steve and process the life I had with him. He holds my memories, my marriage and my still-hurting heart with so much grace and has been a safe place for my sorrow to land. (I could be wrong about this, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: If you run into a man who cannot deal with the fact that you had a life before him, keep on running.)
So, that’s it. Easy, right? Nuh uh. I know it isn’t. I know it’s terrifying and treacherous and feels like one wrong decision will send you and all your people spiraling. I wish I could help you with that, but I can’t. All I can say is that whatever decision you make in this regard, hang on and trust hard. God is good at love; you can count on Him again.
My brilliant and well-read daughter, Whitney, is taking over the blog today to give you the run-down on great reading! I love her mix of fun, educational and inspirational books. Enjoy!
I realized while journaling the other day that I can pretty much think back on the events of 2016 and know when they happened based on what book I was reading or listening to at the time.
Tip for Moms: the best gift I gave myself this year, the most indulgent, productive thing I did for myself, was buy a monthly subscription to audible.com. It’s $14.95 and that gets you a new credit each month with which to get a new audio book. Why did this help me so much? Well, I realized two of the things that take the most time in my life, I also happen to dread. Cleaning my house, and commuting across town. There are too many reasons to list why I hate these things, and I think you all feel them too, so let’s just say, I hated them, I dreaded them, and being honest here, I avoided them, choosing instead to binge watch Gilmore Girls on my couch while my toddlers ran amuck and my son missed preschool. I mean, it didn’t really get that bad, but it was close. So, I found all the rogue headphones in all the junk drawers, I put them all in one place, and whenever it was time to clean or vacuum or fold laundry or do dishes, I grabbed a pair and listened to my book (oftentimes with one ear out so I could hear if one of the boys fell in the toilet). It made the time pass so quickly and made my dirty jobs feel so much less horrible, and I was able to feel that sense of accomplishment when I’d look at my dishwasher and think, “Oh my gosh, it’s unloaded already? But they haven’t even found OJ yet!” Then when I was by myself in the car or just with my little guy, I’d listen to more of my book. “What? I’m home? They haven’t even dropped the bombs on France yet!” I’m telling you, game-changer.
So, here are the books I’ve read or listened to in 2016, and a few sentences on each book.
January – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
This book is life-changing, and that’s the bottom line. Start your year with it and see how your organization, your view of your time, and your priorities, change for the better. I dare you.
February – The Strong, Sensitive Boy by Ted Zeff.
This book got my attention at the library because when I picked it up and read the back cover, it basically said, “Is your son…Greyson Parnell?” It literally listed out so many characteristics of Greyson’s personality that I hadn’t been quite able to understand yet. This book changed the way I relate with him and there’s no hyperbole when I say I’ll be forever grateful for this book.
March/April – The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin
This is about the OJ Simpson trial and it’s super fascinating. The OJ drama happened while I was about six so there was a lot I didn’t know, and I found all the details of the case very interesting. Definitely recommend if you’re interested in cases, juries, judges, and crazy people.
May – Essentialism by George McKeown
If 7 Habits hadn’t taught me all I needed to know about simplifying and prioritizing, this book finished the job. (I say that as if all my priorities are now perfectly in order and I haven’t since said yes to twelve too many things…ha) It’s all about saying the hard NO so you can truly excel when you finally get to say YES, and I highly recommend it.
June – Good to Great by Jim Collins
Another game-changing, home-run, no-wonder-every-successful-person-anywhere-has-this-on-their-bookshelf title. It’s about massive organizations who beat out their competitors to go from “Good to Great”. I quote wisdom from this book probably once a week, and it’s concepts have driven themselves into my work habits, my leadership and my decision-making and communication. This book absolutely slays for anyone in management or leadership, and I strongly recommend it.
July – The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
This book taught me a lot about motivation and why it’s important to infuse my life with a little happiness every now and then, when before I saw happiness as a chancy, yet pleasant outcome of events. I now see the power happiness holds, and I’m learning to take full advantage of it.
August – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
If you’ve ever had a thing for a man in uniform, this book is for you! Jocko & Leif are Navy Seals who fought in the War on Terror in Ramadi, Iraq. The book draws parallels between leadership strategies in the Navy and how they apply in the business world. It has tons of amazing stories from the war and examples from the huge companies they’ve coached since returning home. It’s truly a winner.
September – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
While this story is very sad, it’s beauty and quality far outweigh any negativity the sadness holds. There were times I’d be folding laundry and I’d say out loud, “Ugh, that’s so beautiful.” Plus, it’s narrated by Zach Appelman…let me just say I never knew what amazing narrating was until I listened to this book. And it made me want to learn to play Clair De Lune on piano, a dream that will have to wait until 2017. I’ll blog on that next year. But seriously, this book is absolutely amazing.
October – Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liann Moriarty
Okay, so I love Liann’s writing style and have read about four of her other books, but this one was just soooo sooooo saaaaddddd. And the storyline includes a two-year-old, so of course I could only think of Finn…anyway. I really liked it, but it was definitely indulgently sad. If you’re looking for one of her better ones, read What Alice Forgot or Big Little Lies. They’re dynamite.
November Part 1 – Jackaby by William Ritter
This is an easy read, a YA mystery that’s like a mix of Sherlock and Harry Potter. It’s really fun and super easy to listen to, but not as amazing as my other flings earlier in the year.
November Part 2 – Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
PARENTING GAME-CHANGER. Not kidding, this book answered questions about parenting I didn’t even know I had. I can’t even tell you the difference it’s made in how I approach emotions and parenting…and my house is chalk full of both. If you’re a parent to anyone, read this.
December – Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
I can’t. I literally can’t. This book might just top the charts for me this year, and I couldn’t be more surprised at how much I loved it. Lauren Graham is absolutely delightful. She talks all about her childhood, about working her butt off in “the biz”, about other celebrities, about standards of work, about being single, about dating, about Gilmore Girls, about Parenthood, about Ed Shermann and Mae Whitman…I feel like I had tears in my eyes the entire way through the book. I cannot recommend it enough, ESPECIALLY if you’ve watched Gilmore Girls. Seriously.
Present – The Millionaire Next Door by William Danko and Thomas Stanley
The jury’s still out on this one (unlike OJ, I can confidently say) but I can say I’m only 30 minutes in and it’s already completely changing how I thought about American wealth, and I can’t wait to keep going with it.
And that, my friends, is a comprehensive, entirely-too-detailed list of the books I read this year. I’d love to talk more about each one, but better yet, go read them all yourself! Or listen to them while you vacuum! “But wait, Lauren Graham hasn’t even finished judging on Project Runway!”
As the year winds down, I’ve been sifting through the memories of 2016, and got stuck on this one today:
I started this year worrying that I would try to outrun grief. This was a silly fear because it turns out sorrow is pretty light on its feet – it has a way of moving into all the seasons of life. This summer, I attended a wedding with a friend. It was a wedding Steve would have been really happy about and as I sat there in that magical venue, witnessing the obvious love between the bride and groom, I was overwhelmed with happiness and said to my friend, “I wish we could text a picture of this to Steve in heaven.” We laughed a little at the idea just as a beautiful girl with a haunting voice began singing the song that had been the most important to me during my last few years with Steve: Time After Time.
If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting…time after time.
And: many tears. Because the moment was filled with such weighty waves of beauty and and sorrow and beauty again.
I’m not totally sure why I’m sharing this one today except maybe someone needs to know that, yes, sorrow is dodgy and it will find you and keep finding you for a very long time. Maybe even for forever. But so will beauty. It’s also pretty fast on its feet.
And one more thing: Thank you to my wedding date for handling a deeply emotional moment with great compassion. We all need a few high quality humans who are willing to step into our mess and sit quietly, without trying to fix the place up too much. Cliff Brady is that kind of friend to me and a fantastic wedding date as well.
Day 520: Still thankful. Still hopeful. Still standing.
So, let’s talk about widows dating, shall we?
I guess we could talk about anyone dating, but widows experience some issues that others don’t and I think they’re worth mentioning. In no particular order, we have:
- Grief from the loss of a spouse we loved
- Children watching and dealing with grief of their own.
- Fear of loving and losing again
- A whole world with opinions on how soon is too soon (and every other element involved in moving forward as a single person.)
All those things are true of my life and are always shuffling around in terms of which one seems most weighty at any given moment. For the first year, the noise these concerns created was louder than any desire I might have had to re-enter the dating world, but over the past few months I’ve come to believe this: the worries will always be there, and it’s up to me how much I let them drive my decisions.
Having said that, here’s the thing: I’ve been dating a little again and it’s really weird and sometimes sort of terrifying and very – can I say weird again? Because it is. So, so weird. But it’s also been fun. I haven’t been on many dates, but I have been on a few and it has been very weird and very fun.
I’m not going to give specifics of when or who because – well, I don’t want to and maybe never will – but I do want to share a few things I think I’ve learned in this new adventure.
- I need good voices in my life. I have four women who know every single detail about this chapter in my story. I’ve told them everything from the first, anxious “maybe” feelings to deep angsty how-could-I-ever-risk-my-heart-again fear. I’ve been honest about my motives and struggles and shortcomings – painfully, brutally honest, because I don’t trust myself to navigate this stretch of the sea with just my own feeble wisdom steering the ship. I need people who can see objectively and speak honestly which means they are not family members. My family is so intricately connected to the idea of married Bo that it would be difficult for them to sift through those added, weighty emotions. There are a thousand things I would ask them to weigh in on, but this is not one of those things. My four friends have 100% access and authority to correct, challenge or flat-out disagree with me, which they do, and I appreciate it. They are safety to me. (One of the voices in my life, interestingly enough, was Steve. Throughout his battle with ALS, he regularly talked to me about this very issue and told me that he was praying for my future relationships. It was difficult to hear then, but I’m so thankful for his kind generosity now.)
- I need to worry less about what the watching world thinks. We are a society obsessed with love and we’re used to making quick judgements about who should be with who(m?) and how every love story should play out. People on the periphery of my life will have opinions from “yay!” to “yikes!” (maybe you’re thinking one of those two things while reading this) and that’s fine, but it’s also important that I not cave to the cries of the noisiest crowd because please believe me, the crowd doesn’t ever agree anyway. So I need to listen to Jesus and the people I’ve asked to speak into the situation and leave the rest of the opinions to care and keeping of their owners. (P.S: I’ve heard so many lonely, lonely widows say that they would love to date but are worried it will make people think they have forgotten about their spouse. That’s very sad. Let’s allow widows and widowers to hang onto their old, wonderful memories while also creating some new ones. I’ll probably write more about this soon.)
- Dating at 50 is different than dating at 19. And also the same. Sometimes I look back on the young me with envy, because it was so simple. We didn’t have kids or homes or careers or big backstories. But on the other hand: we didn’t have kids or homes or careers or backstories – and those are the very things that show the fruit of our lives and love. Those things are beautiful and important. Also I think people my age are very aware of how precious and difficult love is and how carefully it must be handled. There is plenty to love at every season, I suppose, but I’m thankful to be in this one.
- I am old fashioned. I’ve discovered that though culture has changed in the years since I last dated, I have not. I still want the man to be the man. To make the first move, to open doors and be protective (I have a good story about that I’ll share some day.) I love all the strides women have made in equality and I am thankful to be a woman who is taken seriously in a man’s world, but in dating, I still want it the way I knew it back in the day, including the commitment to abstinence which – wow – I might as well be a dinosaur, right? But I’m not sorry about this. (Also not sorry to publicly declare that I am too old fashioned for online dating. I don’t think it’s bad, but…nope. Never gonna happen for me.)
- My kids are awesome. Incredible. Amazing. They are supportive, encouraging and wonderfully kind. We’ve had to communicate clearly and carefully through the process because none of us has ever been here before, but I could not be more proud of and thankful for every single one of them.
So, that’s what’s new with me and I wanted you to know, because you have been with me every step of the way so far. I don’t like to feel like I’m hiding, but I also really love this strange little season in my life and want to keep it held sort of close to my heart. However, I promise to let you know what I’m learning along the way. Mostly, what I’m learning right now is that life is always changing. You think you know what’s next and then the winds shift, your course adjusts and everything changes. The good news is that Jesus remains. True. Steady. Faithful as the sunrise. One thing remains.
Wow, friends, this has been a long week. I was supposed to speak at Westside this weekend and I did – once. I spoke at the Saturday service with no trouble and then went to a birthday party where many were fighting a stomach bug. As I got into bed that night, I felt a little anxious but I often feel that way on a speaking weekend. By 1 am, it was clear it was more than jitters, it was the flu. For the first time ever, I called in too sick to speak and tried to ride out the wretched virus, mostly praying for Jesus to come back.
As I write this, it’s two days later @ 2 a.m., and I’m on round two of the same dumb bug. I haven’t slept a single bit and I’m currently in between throwing up so I feel okay for a minute and there are a couple of things I want to commit to a blog post before I forget them:
- Being sick and alone really, truly sucks. I don’t even know if I need to say anymore than that, but I feel whiny enough that I had to at least get that much out. Steve was a good man in situations like this. He was nurturing and grace-giving and kind. He was strong and present and caring. Few things compare in terms of loneliness – at least for me – to being sick in my room by myself. About an hour ago, I sent a text to my mom and sisters, to check if anyone happened to be awake and was willing to take a phone call from a sick-again sister. I just needed a human voice. My sweet sister called me right away, prayed with me and tucked me back in over the phone. I’m so grateful for the people who have been willing to step into my widow life and be as much Steve as they can be in the really lonely moments.
- When the chips are down, I really am pretty brave. I can do these things. I don’t like them, but I can do them and this is a happy discovery because a secret fear of mine over the past few years anticipating life without Steve was how I would handle the tough nights alone. And I’m okay. Perhaps walking someone through a disease like ALS helps build resilience for things like stomach flu, or maybe I’ve had this in me all along. I don’t know, but I’m glad I don’t feel as desperate as I thought I would.
- Worship music is saving my life. It really is. I play it on my phone as I moan in my bed and I feel not so alone. Sometimes I wonder if the people who are singing those songs ever imagined that they would be singing to a sick widow on a lonely night. Well done, worship leaders of the world. You serve us well, even when you don’t know it.
- God is faithful. In sickness. In death. In life. In health. In peace. He is true and steadfast. I feel Him here and I’m thankful.