Like any good millennial I spend much of my day consumed with social media and am therefore very aware of all the trends. November has some of my favorites. It starts sweet with 30 days of thankfulness, then gets sassy with the trending hashtag no nuance November. Apparently, other people can sometimes have trouble speaking their mind so they take #nonuancenovember as a chance to express their actual opinion. Something like: widows are the most underrated figures in the bible, prove me wrong. No-nuance November is great for me, it really fits in with my overall no-nuance lifestyle.
But this year brought a new November trend, no doubt brought on by the relentlessness of continuing to live through a global pandemic while trying to keep up with an ever increasing list of demands. This year November is NO-vember. It’s your chance to say no. Saying no is one of my all time favorite things. You can go with the simply and clear, “no” or “no thanks” if you’re trying to soften the blow. But I like to mix it up, maybe something like, “I don’t think that’s for me” or “hard pass.” You can even get a little more spirited, perhaps a, “don’t look at me” or “I’m not doing that shit.”
The most important thing I said no to was becoming the stereotype of a widow. My own, misguided, understanding was that widows were weak and vulnerable. I had heard the verse “care for orphans and widows” more times than I could count and I didn’t want to be someone who needed extra care. I would not be the sad dowager clad in black for the remainder of my days. Spoiler alert-that stereotype of widows is way off, but that’s a topic for another post…or even a book.
Saying no is amazing. It’s empowering, freeing, and often a radical act of self-care. But being told no is an entirely different scenario. That I don’t like at all. Sometimes I will battle against that ‘no’ and do it anyway. For example, I recently hit obstacle after obstacle while trying to go on a hike (you can hear the full story in this TikTok-yes widowedandwriting has a TikTok now, very exciting) but I pushed through and hiked anyways. I was rewarded with some beautiful fall colors and a rejuvenating time of solitude next to a secluded lake. In that case, pushing through the no’s turned out well…but that’s not usually what happens. I will fully admit as an enneagram 8 I have a very hard time dealing with no’s. I tend to do first and feel later when the healthier choice would have been to feel in the doing and listen for the no’s.
After my husband died I threw myself into travel. In the two months after my husband died I went to three different states and spent a week in Canada. I returned in time to launch myself into my first year in a new position and I was determined to prove I was capable. I poured myself into that job, resumed teaching piano lessons, joined a weekly trivia group and started rebuilding a life. Fast forward to March and in comes a global pandemic. Suddenly I was forced to stop and it felt glorious. It was as if I could finally let myself heal. I didn’t have to try so hard. What would have happened if I wasn’t given that time? Why did I feel so compelled to keep up my pre-widowhood, pre-loss, pre-trauma pace?
On a recent podcast, Nora McInerny revealed that she is often asked how to make something out of your grief. How to turn it into a non-profit, a foundation, a book or some other project. She has begun answering that question with a question: “What would it feel like if you didn’t?” For me, it would have felt terrible. I don’t think I had the capacity to let myself feel that sad, I needed the distractions, I needed to feel like I was in control of something. And I don’t think any of my choices were bad ones; in fact, they felt like the only possible choice at the time. But it was most definitely doing first and feeling later. Looking back, if I could have been a little kinder to myself, a little less anxious to prove I could handle even this horrific tragedy, maybe my grief process would have been gentler.
So what if, with what’s left of this November, you and I honor the no’s. When it’s a sad day, we let ourselves be sad and don’t force ourselves to go out anyway. When you oversleep, and the dog throws up in the car and the trailhead is closed, you listen to those no’s, turn around and spend the day binge watching Outlander instead of hiking. If something feels beyond your capacity, listen to that no. Don’t overextend yourself just so you can keep up this pretense that you are all powerful. Ok, I know I said you but that last one was really for me. Ok, Ok, they’re all for me. Happy no-vember. I can’t wait to hear what style of no works for you.