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Student drivers and widows: our same requirements.
As I was making a left turn behind an unusually slow moving car, I gripped my steering wheel agitatedly and blurted out, “Why are you driving so slow?! You’re stopping the flow of traffic. Ugh!”
And then I saw it. The yellow and black bumper sticker: “Please be patient. Student Driver.”
Immediately, my mood and mindset shifted. In place of frustration, I instantly felt compassionately calm. How could I not have empathy for the novice driver learning how to literally navigate new roads while processing unfamiliar physical, cognitive, and emotional stimuli?
Please be patient, I’m learning how to brake, accelerate, turn, and check for blind spots.
Please be patient, I’m figuring out how to safely get where I need to be while keeping things moving for others.
Please be patient, I’m a student driver.
What if I had had a sticker pinned to me that said, “Please be patient. Widowed and grieving.”—as a heads up to those around me to keep a safe distance if my slower pace and erratic movements made them uncomfortable.
To the organ-harvest center the day my husband died: please be patient. I’m fighting the nausea as I struggle to process what you are asking me to do. To give permission so that my loss can potentially be a lifesaver for someone else.
To friends and family one week (and, at least, one year) post-loss: please be patient, I’m disoriented and in shock. I may not return phone calls and text messages. I won’t want your visits, however intentional of love and support they are. It’s nothing personal.
During that December and the following three Decembers: please be patient. I hate Christmas right now. I won’t reciprocate holiday cards. I might forget a gift…or five. I just want to Santa up for my own kids and call it a win.
To the kids’ schools and extracurricular activities’ coordinators: please be patient. I’m now consistently forgetting to check my email, sign the sports waiver, the field trip release—all the things I used to be on top of. My brain functions differently these days. I will later learn that grief and trauma alter cognition—I feel both relieved and frustrated to hear that.
Please be patient. I sometimes get overwhelmed with envy and sorrow missing the parts—a nuclear family of four, a husband holding his wife’s hand, a daughter running up to hug her dad—that are no longer mine.
Please be patient. I might feel compelled to share a memory of him but, in the same conversation, not want to hear his name or how wonderful someone else thought him to be. I know it’s confusing. It is for me, too.
Please be patient. I’m drowning in loneliness and the fear that I might end up by myself forever, especially after the kids go off to college.
Please be patient. I’m so tired. Not just physically, but exhausted from the soul that no amount of sleep alleviates.
In the same way I don’t pity or condescend the learning driver, I don’t ask for special treatment for the novice widow, once-wife, and solo mother doing her best to navigate new roads amidst an entirely different landscape. Just recognize that she is terrified and uncertain as she keeps herself and others moving with the flow of “traffic” in her world.
Please be patient. She’s learning how to stop and self-care, to accelerate and move forward, to pivot in the unknown, and to accept all the blind spots.
Please be patient. She’s integrating everything to get to where she needs to be as fluidly, peacefully, and joyfully as possible.
She is widowed and grieving.