Right after Shawn’s funeral, I was standing in the church greeting people, when I heard someone around me say, “Oh, that poor girl.”
I was in a deep fog, and so I didn’t really think much of it. I was also standing with Claire, so it’s possible whomever said it was talking about her.
But for some reason, it’s one of the things I remember from the line at the church. Isn’t that odd? Of all the things to stick in my head, that was one of them. I started to think about it the other day, and it made me remember my mom’s funeral, and something that happened there. I was 19, and I stood with my father and my 16-year-old sister and greeted people before the service. Someone – and to this day I do not remember who – came up to me and said, “you poor sweet girls. Your mama is in heaven, you know.”
It was meant to be kind, and I took it that way. I was a child, really, as was my younger sister. So the comment, from a much older woman, made sense. But even then, it made me feel like I had no control over the situation. It made me feel like I was a victim of my life.
Maybe this is why the same comment, said twenty years later at my husband’s funeral, really stuck with me.
Listen, I’ve had a lot of shit in my life. To lose my mom to suicide when I was on the cusp of adulthood, and then to lose my husband when we were at the beginning of our life together – well, it is really fucking unfair. When Shawn got sick, but before we knew it was cancer, I remember thinking, “well, I’ve already had a really bad thing happen in my life, so I’m sure this will be okay.” I never thought I’d get struck by lightning twice.
But the thing is, life doesn’t work that way. Not for me, and not for a lot of people.
I can understand how people say things like “that poor girl.” I am sure that if I met someone who’d been through two major losses so early in life, I’d think the same thing.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m a victim of my circumstances. Until this year, I’d never been one to feel sorry for myself. Even when my mom died, I still managed to enjoy life and believe that the future would be happy.
That hasn’t been as easy in the past seven months. I’ve felt beaten down by the world, and as I’ve written, I haven’t felt grateful for much of anything.
But I don’t want to be “that poor girl.” Because that person – the one who gets the label “poor girl” – is a victim. And if I am a victim, that means that I have no control over my life.
So let me say this now – I am not planning on being a victim any longer.
I am not saying that I won’t be sad or frustrated. Those are normal human emotions, and I am sure that I will still rage about our health care system or cry when I think about my kids going to their first day of school without Shawn. I am not going to become some bionic figure who just finds the good in everything and pushes forward with life. That’s not real, and that’s not how my grief process works.
But I am not going to let Shawn’s death define me. That doesn’t mean I’ll forget him, or that I want to erase his presence from my life. He will always be the love of my life and I will never, ever be the same without him around. I will probably continue to cry at night before bed when I think about him.
Losing Shawn was the single worst thing I’ve ever had happen to me. But it is not the only thing that will ever happen to me. For many months after he died, I could not think about the future. I could not conceptualize moving through the world without him by my side. I could not imagine having a future that was happy, because up until that point, most everything happy in my life was, in large part, due to him.
It is crushing to think about my life in 2 or 5 or 10 years, because it won’t be a life with Shawn. It’s all I ever wanted. But that is not how things turned out, and one of the things I’ve realized over this summer is that I don’t want to let my shitty life circumstances take over my future.
I’m not really sure what this declaration means, exactly, only that I’ve decided to give myself a public pep talk here on my blog. I guess it could mean that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as “that poor girl.”
Now it’s time for “that strong woman.”