This afternoon, beloved actress Emmy Rossum, from such hits as Shameless, The Phantom Of The Opera, or if you're really old school, that old Disney movie Genius (like, can we all take a minute to remember that one?), inspired by the bravery and openness of Katie Couric and Sheryl Sandberg's latest interview, took to her Facebook page to share a beyond-inspiring message and reminder with her fans.
If you have a single parent, read this. If you've been through sexual assault, health scares, grief and loss, hate and violence, job loss or really anything and want to find resilience, read this. Just take two minutes and read this.
Sam and I were fortunate enough to get tickets to see my friend Katie Couric interview the inimitable Sheryl Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant about their newest book OPTION B. The book is about how Sheryl handled the tragedy of her husband Dave suddenly passing away. It left her a single mother of two young children, with a huge hole in their life and their hearts. She talked about how she pulled herself together, how she's still pulling herself together. She leaned on the advice of many psychologists and friends to help her through. She learned other peoples’ stories of loss and confusion and anger and suffering and laughter and resilience. All of this ended up inspiring this very impactful book as well as an online community in OPTIONB.COM.
Sheryl wrote a Facebook post 30 days after Dave died, which -- if you haven't read it -- was very open, emotional and raw. She said she didn't really realize how public and viral this post would go. But it went out, it hit people hard, and it caused a dialogue.
As public people, there is struggle with how much to share. How much to hold sacred within ourselves. Also, as actors, we ask ourselves is it better to hold some of ourselves private so that people might forget about the real “us” when watching a character?
If we're being honest, though… as people, public or not, it's sometimes hard to share. With anyone. Even those closest to us. The idea of butting up against and sharing our own vulnerabilities -- not the ones we can cloak behind a character -- is intimidating. What if they don't really like me anymore? What if they see this as weakness? If I say this, I can't take it back.
So this morning as I woke up thinking a lot about the talk and how it affected me personally — I cried a few times listening to Sheryl and Adam speak! — and with the strength of Sheryl's story guiding me, I felt compelled to write this post.
The talk really hit me hard when Sheryl and Katie Couric (who lost her husband Jay to colon cancer when her daughters were 2 and 6) spoke about suddenly becoming single moms. How they never realized how hard it really was, how ostracizing it can feel for children. How hallmark holidays like "Father's Day" and activities like the school "Father Daughter Dance" which once seemed like happy, easy, fun traditions suddenly became almost suffocatingly painful.
When they talked about this, I reached over and grabbed Sam’s hand and squeezed.
I had a single mom. I have a single mom. This isn't a secret. Growing up in a school — and a world — filled with mostly two parent units was difficult for me. Father's Day still is difficult for me. I'm not really sure how to celebrate. In the weeks leading up to it, I sense it coming like a wave approaching. Sometimes I try to ignore it — but the ads in the paper or online banner ads for “Macy’s Fathers Day Cologne Sale!” and restaurants selling “Father’s Day Brunch Mimosas!” can make that pretty tricky. Sometimes, I take my mom to brunch and get her a present, to show her how much I value her. She really was both a mother and a father for me. I don't like her to know that it still causes me pain -- 30 years later -- lest she feel somehow that she wasn't enough. She was always enough. She is enough. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but for me she was the best mom ever.
Katie Couric said after Jay died she tried to get the school to get rid of the title “Father Daughter’ dance, and call it “Friend Dance” or anything else that would feel more inclusive. The school said it was tradition and kept it "Father Daughter Dance."
Some of these traditions are really hard for those of us who don’t have. Even today, the idea of no father/daughter dance at my wedding. No father to walk me down the aisle. All of these “traditions” are painful reminders that inadvertently re-injure us, causing a feeling of loss, jealously (of others who have what I didn’t), anger and confusion. Usually leading to us feel somehow inadequate.
The statistics have only just get harder. This is two-fold. It's bad and good.
So, there are more single mothers (and parents) now than ever. Today, 1 in 4 children is being raised without a father. Almost half of these are divorced or separated. A third were never married or “born out of wedlock”. (Side note: Can we get rid of the term “out of wedlock” please? It feels very antiquated. Although, my parents were never married and being called a “bastard” growing up was particularly painful too so I guess I’ll take “out of wedlock” over “bastard” any day.)
But if there’s any upside to this widespread loss — it is knowing that there are more kids that are LIKE YOU. And LIKE ME. And now there’s a place to talk about all this stuff. And lots of other stuff.
See, when I was growing up, having 1 parent often felt very unique. There were only one or two other kids in my entire school who had a similar situation. Who knew what that was like. And mostly it was kids who had lost a parent to death, not just a parent who didn’t want to stick around. But still it tied us together, a friendship built on a strong, invisible bond that no one else could really understand.
Because when you're going through something or when you live with something like that, most people don't know what to say... so most don't say anything at all. And that makes it feel even more isolating.
But, there are some who do. There are some who reach out and ask how you are and don't expect you just respond with the usual "I'm great! How are you?"
So I suppose this is a public thank you note of sorts. To my friends, who write me on father’s day and check in to see how I’m doing. To my therapist, who has helped me through things in my life and bolstered my spirit and self-confidence. To my mother, who was and is enough.
To Sheryl, for leading with openness and honesty and establishing OPTIONB.com, an online community where people can connect and build resilience. There are areas to discuss not just this but sexual assault, health, grief and loss, hate and violence… AND RESILIENCE.
So, you’re not alone.
To quote Sheryl’s book:
"Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of option B.”
[Photos via Getty, @emmyrossum]