Sometimes, who you are can change in an instant.
“It’s a girl!”
When these changes happen, the world often knows immediately. There’s not always a lot of training about how to be a wife or a mother or a widow before you actually become one, so the transition isn’t often smooth. I certainly argued with Shawn about sharing the household chores when we were first married, I definitely didn’t know how to install a car seat when Claire was born, and I absolutely had no idea how to carry on with my life when I became a widow.
And yet I figured it all out, or at least figured enough out to make my life work in my new role. I became a wife, and then a mother. Now, I’m a widow, and somehow, I’m making meaning with this new life.
But what about the changes that are slower, the ones that take time to happen? Not everything happens in an instant.
For example, when someone asks me, “what do you do?” my answer isn’t quite so straightforward anymore.
“Well,” I say, “I’m a teacher.” But lately, I’ve started adding something else. “I’m a writer, too.”
I didn’t become a writer overnight. I did almost no public writing until Shawn died, and initially this blog was supposed to be mostly for my family and friends. But then, I kept writing. Other people wrote back, including a lot of strangers. I got a few things published elsewhere and I actually got paid for some of them. This fall, I went back to part-time teaching so I could try and really take a stab at writing. When did I become a writer? I’m not sure. But I feel like one now.
What about when people ask me what I do outside of my work? “What are your hobbies?” they might inquire.
“I’m a runner,” I say. I’ve always liked to run a little bit, at the gym on the treadmill or outside on beautiful days. But after Shawn died, my running changed. I needed to run – run away from the anxiety, mostly – so I started doing it every day. Rain or shine. Freezing cold and blazing heat. Inside on the treadmill if I had to. I wasn’t really any faster than I was before and I didn’t like it for a long time. But over a period of months, something changed. I stopped running from the anxiety, and I started running just for the pleasure of it. Whenever that happened, I became a runner. There wasn’t a day when I woke up and said “I’m a runner” but yet, it’s something that I am now.
All of this is applicable to how my life has gradually changed over the past two years. In that time period, I’ve gone from a happy (but typical) spouse to an overburdened caregiver and finally, to a widow. Of course, there was a specific date when I became a widow, at least officially. But in the beginning, I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea how I was going to survive this next step, much less find myself again in a new way.
And yet, I did. I am still a widow, and will always be, but I feel a lot more power over the word widow than I once did. Maybe that’s because I feel like less of a victim these days.
Sometimes, people wonder about how I’m doing, about how I’ve made it through almost two years without my husband. “How do you do it?” they ask.
“I’ve survived it one day at a time,” I say. Because here’s the thing: I didn’t wake up one day and realize that I’d made it through to the other side, to that place where I feel like mostly whole human being again. I haven’t magically been able to make all the pain and hurt of losing Shawn go away. I don’t even want that.
But I have become a person who can keep living through even terrible pain. It wasn’t something that happened overnight and it certainly wasn’t linear. And yet, here I am. I am not a survivor because I checked a whole bunch of boxes and suddenly arrived at that title. I am a survivor because I lived my messy life one day at a time.