On the night that my husband died, I suddenly went from being a wife to being a widow. A piece of my identity that had felt unshakable was suddenly gone. We had promised to stay committed to each other "until death do us part". We never expected it to happen so soon.
Suddenly, my reality changed. The numbness of shock kept it at bay for some time, but slowly the life we shared - and even the very words I used- changed. Everything that was "we" was now "me". "Our room" became "my room" and "our bed" was now just mine. "Our car" became "my car". Hardest of all, "our life" became "my life".
The change was shocking and abhorrent to me. I knew who I was as a wife. This new me? This solo me? I had no idea who that was.
We met in college when we were 18 and started dating at 19. In many ways we grew into adulthood together, spending the majority of our formative college years in a serious dating relationship. Our dreams, plans, and even our faith had been shaped by each other.
We also learned to adult together. Greg lived off campus for 2 years and had a head start on things like paying rent, utilities, and grocery shopping. I was an RA who lived on campus and enjoyed the simplicity of dining hall meals and one bill each semester. After graduation, I spent one month living with my parents before we got married and started doing life fully together. I was on my own but not alone- my love and best friend was by my side. My first bills were paid with Greg and to this day I still mark down the date and check number like he taught me. My first shopping trips for the first meals I would cook were with him. The list goes on. The person I am in my late 30s is immensely shaped by the man who'd been by my side since my late teens.
Greg was so excited that we were close to approaching the day when we'd been together for half of our lives. We started dating at 19 and 38 was only a few years away. I'd spent over a third of my life as his wife and wanted to spend the rest of it that way too.
And then, suddenly, he was gone. "We" had become "me" and I felt lost. It took a long time for me to begin changing the words that came off my tongue. I clung to the "we" because it felt so right and "me" felt so wrong.
Grocery shopping brought a surprising crisis- what did I want to buy when it was me and not we? The meals I made were shaped by having Greg to cook for. The choices I made were tweaked to his desires. Groceries, with their constant necessity, were the first thing I had to navigate without him but there have been many, many more.
As the months and now years have passed, I have been on a journey of rediscovering me. Many times I've felt like I'm back in college, back at square one- learning to adult on my own for the first time but now with a child depending on me.
I've leaned what I like to do for fun and what I was really doing for Greg. I've learned what I like to eat and the things that I will never buy again (Kraft American singles - eww). I've learned that I like a clean car and am not as concerned about a clean kitchen. I've rediscovered long-lost passions and let go of things that we loved to do together.
In a nutshell I've learned to be me.
But today I realized that I'm hitting a new identity crisis. The crisis of no longer being a wife has passed. The crisis of being alone is ongoing.
Far more than I realized, my identity was built on Greg's love. There was someone who saw me and chose me. Someone who believed I was worthy of spending a lifetime with. I was known fully and loved despite my ugly attitudes and personality flaws. I was safe with my built-in best friend. I had someone to show up to parties and weddings with, a person to put down as my emergency contact. He was my default and I was his and we loved it that way.
But now I'm no one's default partner, no one's companion. No one makes sure I get home safe at night. No one checks in on how I feel about my day or notices when my tendency to sigh ramps up indicating that I am discouraged and frustrated. No one tells me I look beautiful or gives me a hug and a kiss just because. No one sees me in a funk and tries (annoyingly) to get me out of it.
Without a life partner by my side, I am tempted to believe that I am not worthy. I begin to think that not having a man who loves me, pursues me, and thinks I'm beautiful means that I matter less than others. Not only do I have less than other women, I begin to think that I am less than other women. When I give into the lie, I quickly find my heart and mind filled with jealousy, discontent, discouragement and a temptation to give up. In other moments I feel desperate to find someone who will fill the hole left behind by Greg and make me feel significant again.
It's another identity crisis. Going from "we" to "me" brought on my first identity crisis. Still being just "me" nearly 2.5 years later has brought on another.
As a follower of Jesus I know that I'm supposed to find my identity in him and what he says about me. I'm tempted to condemn myself for failing to live out what I know in my head is true. But while pondering these things I realized I have another option - I can lean in to Jesus. I can admit that it hurts and that I still feel a bit lost. I can admit that I felt more whole when I had a partner by my side. I can admit that losing Greg felt like losing a big part of me. Then, I can just tell those things to Jesus and let him meet me in the midst of the lonliness and feelings of emptiness. Not demanding that he instantly fix it or take it away but rather just sitting in the hurt with him.
Somethings don't get fixed right away. Some cracks and holes remain. I'm still trying to figure out me.