It’s been over three years since my husband died. I’ve now had enough experience as a widow to know that people truly don’t know what to say when they hear about his death. It’s awkward, unexpected, and simply, very sad. I can handle it, though. I’m an adult.
My daughter on the other hand, is in the throes of teenage-dom. Emotions seem to run high all the time. All I have to do is sneeze in public to make her feel self-conscious and not just embarrassed, but mortified. When Kylie Jenner’s new lipstick became available, you’d think my daughter won the lottery. When the color she wanted wasn’t available however, you’d think there was a death in the family. Well… She’s growing up without her dad.
At thirteen years old, she still called him daddy when he died. I think she still would. She reached a teenaged milestone recently when she got her driver’s license. She got the permit, no problem, but the actual driving test wasn’t so easy. Nerves got the best of her, she panicked and made an error so egregious that it was an automatic fail. When she and the driving test instructor pulled back into the DMV, where I was a nervous wreck myself, I knew it was bad news. They said the test would take about twenty minutes, they had been gone all of about five.
When I got back into the car, I heard exactly what happened. Through her tears she confessed that she was nervous and screwed up. When I asked if the instructor offered any constructive criticism, my daughter said, “Yes, she said I shouldn’t drive with you anymore, she says Moms are too easy on their kids. She said from now on, I should drive with my Dad!”
Now obviously, this instructor had no idea of our situation. But really, in this day and age, who would make such a senseless comment? Families, especially here in Los Angeles, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are single moms, single dads, same-sex couples… to suggest that a child learn to drive with their dad is not only sexist, but ignorant, too! I’m sure this woman didn’t mean to be cruel, but she had been.
I wanted to get out of the car, get in her face, and school her over her insensitivity. Yeah, my daughter should drive with her dad. Thanks for the suggestion! That was the plan all along, but then he died! I was enraged but didn’t want to leave my daughter as she sat sobbing in the driver’s seat, feeling like a failure, concerned over what she would tell her friends, and also, possibly, feeling the loss of her father, as if she needed a reminder.
Who knows, had my child told that instructor why she couldn’t drive with her dad, maybe she would have passed her out of guilt for saying something so stupid. While I am more than happy to play the widow card in any given situation, my daughter will often say nothing. When people hear that her dad passed away, they feel bad and don’t know what to say. Then my daughter feels bad that they feel bad…. For her, the loss is personal and private. She wants people to know, but doesn’t necessarily want to talk about or draw attention to it. If and when she feels like it, she’ll have her own stories to tell one day.
When the next driving test was scheduled a month later, a close family friend took her to the DMV. We all thought it best that I stay home that morning – which I did, pacing, staring at the clock, trying to distract myself from the test, the test, The Test! Finally they called with the good news. We were all ecstatic. Okay, I actually cried. My daughter then mentioned that she saw the instructor who failed her. She said she wanted to saunter past her with a “Ha, ha, ha!” Instead, she waited on line for her license – thrilled and relieved. Of course, she wasn’t happy with her driver’s license photo, but that’s another story. She really is an excellent driver. I know her daddy would be proud.
Melissa Gould lives in Los Angeles, CA with her teenage daughter and neurotic dog. She’s been writing about her young widow experience for The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Kveller, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and more. Find her @widowishwidow and www.wid