Today is my anniversary, my 11th anniversary to be exact. It is my sixth time going through this date without my other half. My husband, Steve, died just more than five years ago.
Here’s the deal. Eleven years ago I became a wife. Around our town, I was “Steve’s wife” since he had grown up there and everyone knew him. I loved being Steve’s wife. I still remember his face and comment the first time someone introduced him as “Erin’s husband” at one of my work events. He looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been introduced as your husband before. I kinda like it!”. That was Steve – he was just as proud to be my husband as I was to be his wife.
Have you ever thought about your identity?
It goes to the heart of who you believe you are.
My identity was stolen the day Steve died. Not only did I lose the person that made my world go round, but I lost who I was. I lost my future as Steve’s wife and instantly became Steve’s widow – an identity I never wanted.
Widowhood is full of identity crises. The start of my blog highlights just a small portion of the challenge.
- Should I celebrate my anniversary? Is it even an anniversary if only one person is still alive? Should I say this “would have been” my anniversary or “it is” my anniversary?
- Husband. Do I say late husband? Just husband? Just Steve? For those that are remarried these questions are even more complex. Is it “first husband”? How do I share these moments without being uncomfortable, or making others uncomfortable?
Widowhood is full of with questions without answers.
Have you noticed that virtually all information forms (doctor, credit cards, school, etc)ask if you are married? What do you choose if the options are single, divorced, married, or separated? I’ve had that issue – many times. I am just stubborn enough to write “widowed” on those forms – because I’m not any of those other things. Identity.
What about the boxes for Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr. etc? What the heck am I? Can I be a Mrs. without a husband on Earth? Five years later and I still have no clue what box I fit in.
Then comes the big ones. School or medical forms that ask for the Father’s name. And if the father lives with you. I have cried over these forms so many times. I choose to write Steve’s name in those spaces. Death will never remove his identity as a Dad – an identity that he not only wanted, but loved to be every single day. I write “deceased” after his name to avoid questions. Address, heaven. It breaks my heart every single time.
Up next, single parenthood. Let me start by saying that I am not a single parent. There is no Dad that my children can visit. There is not a deadbeat Dad, or any other version you can think of that would make me a single mom – it wasn’t a choice either of us made. There are no automatic weekends off or anyone to call when a child is sick. No one to share in some of the scary challenges that come with raising a child. My kids have had some health issues (minor thankfully!) and there are days that I wished there was someone to validate my decisions or help make them. I am the only one left to do those things. It was’t a choice from either of us. I am a solo parent. I don’t know why it matters, but for some reason it does to me. Identity.
Yes. This minefield deserves it’s own line – and has a few other blog posts like here and here. Let me be clear. I grew up believing in fairy tales – Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dirty Dancing, and heck, even Pretty Woman. I believed that you would meet that one person and fall in love together, get married, have children, and do life (grow old) together. I truly believed that. Steve and I had a love like that. We “only” dated eight months before getting engaged. It seemed like we knew each other forever. He ordered the ring at month six. We had that crazy connection that you just knew you didn’t want to ever live without. We couldn’t wait to get married and start our life together – just like the fairytales.
Marrying someone is a recognition of love and commitment in the world. If you are with someone that doesn’t want to marry you and you’ve been together for awhile, well, they just aren’t that in to you. Harsh, I know. Yes, I eat crow.
Let me enlighten you to my today. Despite all of my fairytale ideas. Despite having that type of love and knowing exactly how it feels to be loved like that…here I am. I am “that girl” that owns a home with a boyfriend and has young kids (I mean, how good of an example is THAT?). I’m a “girlfriend” in my mid-thirties – something I never, ever imagined when I was younger. It sounds terrible. It goes against everything I believed in. I am living the life of the same people I mentally judged before. The shoe is on the other foot. I have struggled more with this identity than any other identity in my life because it goes against the very basics that I believed about a “good” life and being a “good” or “accomplished” person. Being a wife means that someone loved you enough to sign up to love you for the rest of your life – being a widow means they fulfilled their promise. “Girlfriend” does not have the same value. Today, I [honestly] hate introductions. I can laugh and say “I’m his better half” or some lame thing like that to avoid “girlfriend”. In reality, I am just trying to avoid letting other people know that we are not committed in the traditional way. In my head I am judging myself! To reduce potential judgements (or compensating for my own judgements/insecurities) I tend to ramble about the fact that I am a widow when I am introduced as a girlfriend. Like somehow that justifies my choices. Clearly, I have issues with this identity and have struggled with it for a few years…yes, years. Ladies, you are not alone if you are on this journey too.
With all that said, I have a great life. My boyfriend and I have a great life together. We have figured out how to pick up our pieces individually and make them into a pretty beautiful picture together. I doubt we will ever get married – lets be real, it would have happened already. I’m not sure how old we will grow together. But you know what? No one else knows how long they have together either – married or not. I just need to find the right box or identity to fit – consider it a work in progress!
If dating again challenges everything you believed about the world – you are not alone. Dating after you have been married is different. It challenges your beliefs and any identity you have.
Finding a new identity
Eleven years ago today, I said “I do” to a new identity. Five years and seven days ago I was thrust into the widowed life and dropped into this new identity. Death changes who you are – there is a period of time you have no idea who you are. It steals your identity.
Here’s what I want you to know. You don’t have to be widowed to have an identity crisis. I had one after child number two was born. Luckily, I had a man that not only stood by me, but helped me discover how to become what I wanted. I use every bit of that learning today to keep me focused on the identities that are truly important to me.
If you are a widow and struggling to define this new life you were tossed into, you are not alone. If you feel like you’ve lost yourself, you have. My advice? Start at the end.
How do you want to be remembered when your time is up? What do you want your legacy to be?
To achieve that legacy, what type of person do you need to be? What needs to be important? Who needs to be important?
Let these questions be your guiding star. Put your time into building that legacy and you will find your identity again. It may not hit every aspect of your life, but you will be able to focus on the things that you want to define you.
What identity challenges have you faced in life?