Today is my birthday. It’s also the 3-year anniversary of my first blog post, “My 39th birthday…” Over the past few months, I’ve started to re-read many of these old blog posts, and sometimes I am downright shocked at the degree of openness I put out there, right in the beginning. So as I thought about my birthday this year, I decided to re-read this part of that post from three years ago:
Here’s the thing – it’s not that I feel insecure in the same way I did at age 21, worried about how my hair looked or whether I was wearing the right jeans or drinking the right beer. Those sorts of silly issues faded just by mere fact of growing older. It’s that when I was with him, I felt so secure in who I was. I felt so secure that he loved me. I felt so secure that we were a thing – Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. I felt so secure in who I was as a person, as a partner.
Now, I don’t feel that. Instead, I feel quite insecure, which is honestly a feeling I can’t say I’ve had often in my adult life.
I’ve heard that people who lose an arm or a leg are often left feeling phantom limbs where none remains. In many ways, that’s how I feel now. It’s like this part of me is gone. I don’t mean it’s like a part of Shawn is gone – I know he’s not here. What I mean is that part of what made me who I am – happy-go-lucky and confident – that part has been replaced by something else that makes me more nervous and less sure about myself. And a lot more anxious.
I know things will get better, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a thousand times. I know part of the reason they will get better is because I have wonderful friends around me, many of whom cried alongside me at that dinner table. I know my kids will get older and write me cards on my birthday that I don’t have to ask them to write. I know I will regain some of that security as I find my footing in this new world of mine. But we will not be Shawn and Marjorie, Marjorie and Shawn. That person is forever frozen at age 38, singing karaoke with her head thrown back and her husband holding her hand.
God, I remember writing that. It was painful. I couldn’t even really think about the future or anything other than losing Shawn.
But what I really see in that post is how much my identity and my sense of self worth was tied up in my marriage. I didn’t feel like myself in those early days of grief, and moreover, I didn’t feel like I knew who I was without Shawn by my side.
Let me be clear here – we did not have a co-dependent relationship. I did plenty of things on my own, and I had my own life, separate from him. But I still felt so lost without him.
I mean, of course I did! He had just died. I had just become a widow. I felt like I was constantly underwater, and really, I was still at least partially in shock.
I could see that things would get better someday. I could understand, at least intellectually, that my kids would get bigger and that some of the daily parts of my life would get easier. I just couldn’t imagine that I’d ever find the kind of security in my identity again, without Shawn.
For a long time, there was a big part of me that thought I’d find that security in another man. (I know! I’m an empowered woman living in the 21st century, and yet I felt that way. I’m not proud of it, but since I am honest on this blog, there it is.) I thought if I found a new love story, it could give me the same security I once had.
But slowly – very, very slowly – I began to realize that I was going to have to find my footing and my sense of self without relying on anyone else. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do this without losing a partner, but for me, it took Shawn’s death to force me to figure out who I was going to be in this world. I don’t mean that my core personality changed. I’m still pretty happy-go-lucky and decently confident. I mean that I was forced to find some peace with who I was, separate from anyone else.
I’m not saying this was smooth or that I am now a fully confident woman independent from all other humans in this world. That’s just not true. I am proud of the relationships I kept and those that I built, and damn I’m so in love with Chris.
But I am different than I was three years ago. Yes, I’ve got a lot less anxiety and I feel a sense of security about who I am. And yes, I feel secure with Chris, but I don’t feel secure because of Chris. I had to get to a point where I didn’t need anyone to rescue me before I could embark on a truly deep relationship like the one I have with Chris. Also, to be clear, I certainly have moments of insecurity in many areas of my life (parenting, teaching, writing, etc.) so I’m not immune to feeling insecure. It’s just not often the way I feel anymore.
I am grateful that I’m celebrating my 42nd birthday, and I’ll feel grateful every year that I get to live on this planet. Maybe that’s where the security comes from now: from the understanding that life can be unpredictable, but that even thrown a horrible circumstance, I will be able to get back up, and stand on two feet.