A Widower Walks into a Bar

People eat at restaurants all by their lonesome for a variety of reasons: People watching, grabbing a quick bite between point A and point B, maybe they needed to get that all-you-can-eat shrimp at Red Lobster before it’s gone and everyone else is busy. Career waitresses often have the ability to figure these people out.

One particular evening a single gentleman was sitting on the cocktail deck, parallel to the bar of the quaint Wisconsin supper club I sling food and beverage at. He ordered a Whiskey Old Fashioned, nothing obviously telling as to why he was a single table of one. While approaching to take his order roughly 4, no more than 5 minutes after dropping his beverage, it was gone. We shared a good laugh: there must’ve been a hole in the glass and I’d be sure to bring him another without a leak next time. Once he was on his 3rd he shared with me his reasoning for being there alone.

It was his wedding anniversary, except his wife passed away in March of this year and my place of employment was his lady’s favorite place. He cracked another joke, he liked it there too, but it was the only place she ever suggested.

Based on personal assessment, to him, it was the right place to be. Flushed with emotion, I thanked him for coming out to celebrate his marriage with us.

I realized now, there will be instances when you meet other human beings who have experienced sorrow in ways you’re unable to comprehend, and just being present can give immense comfort. I listened to every word he shared as if there’d be a quiz later. It was his first anniversary without his wife, and I imagine that in itself is a very unique kind of heartache. These are the kind of moments that force reflection on your own life.

Just 15 minutes before we were strangers and suddenly his words of an experience he endured shaped my own thoughts, putting a number of things into perspective. Tomorrow will come, but not for all of us. The big picture we all strive to look at can dramatically transform into a nightmare without warning. Anything is possible, good or bad. When it happens, how will we cope and manage day-to-day life? I’ll tell ya what, I want to do it like the man at my table.

After careful thought, I ordered him the complimentary (homemade, super tasty) cupcake we gift out for celebrations and telling the whole story to a friend at work who made a stellar point: How do you even know he likes cupcakes? Not that this is much concern for the average Joe coming in for their birthday, I was trying to bring this man who lost his wife any form of happiness.

The overall goal was for him to get home and realize he made the right decision, to come to his late wife’s most favorite restaurant on their wedding anniversary, without her.

How easy would it have been for this man to stay home feeling sad? He deserved any dessert he wanted. I handed over a dessert menu and instructed him to pick out any dessert he wanted, on me. I wish I could find the words to describe the look in his eyes but I can’t. It was a look of the purest appreciation I’ve ever seen.

The owner of the restaurant I work for likes to say, we aren’t in the food business, we’re in the people business serving food, and that night it couldn’t have rung truer. I dropped off his choice of Creme Brulee and he asked if he could give me a hug, which turned out to be the most real hug I’ve ever shared with a near-stranger. I hope to see him again, and I hope he’s well and at peace. Me? I’ll just be over here mulling over the memory, reminding myself that life can change in an instant, and not taking tomorrow for granted.