Before Phil died I never questioned my ability to stand on my own two feet. Being in a relationship was something I loved, but I didn't believe that living life as a pair was mandatory for achieving happiness. My husband was my partner and my friend, but we were definitely two individuals with our own opinions and preferences...that didn't always line up. Then the world shifted, Phil died, and I was inexplicably unstable on my previously solid two feet.
Death made me feel, for the first time in my life, like half of a person. Suddenly I struggled to define myself, even though my identity was clear to me just days before becoming a widow. It was as if adding the word "widow" to the list of labels I wore mixed up all the others and left me wondering what applied and what didn't. This confusion was both terrifying and disconcerting at the same time. The dread I felt about living life without Phil made sense to me, but I was confused by the fact that I didn't know who I was without him. Since when did I define myself only by my marital status? When did I lose tract of the fact that I was an individual in a partnership? To take that a step further, I was proud of the fact that Phil valued me as an independent, intelligent, self-sufficient woman...um, where did she go? I was terrified that I would never see that version of myself again and that I would be stuck with the half person I saw in the mirror in the weeks and months after Phil's death.
Over time I have come to see my definition of self as a playing card pyramid. Each role I play in life is represented by one card in the deck. Inborn talents, preferences, bad habits and good habits, shortcomings, interests, indulgences, unique abilities and quirky life experiences...all stack precariously one on top of the other to create my life pyramid. Since every structure needs a base, I see my most important roles~ wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend ~as the foundation of my self-definition card house. When Phil died, one of my base cards was ripped out and the whole structure toppled. Playing card pyramids are constantly falling down. Usually, after a deep breath, the rebuilding process is patiently started and the pyramid slowly rises again. In the aftermath of my identity collapse, I was temporarily unable to remember what card went where in the rebuilding. And I hesitated to use the new card, "widow" to hold up my personal pyramid, unsure if this unwanted joker would be capable of stabilizing my house.
I have learned that the new card is indeed capable, as am I. In fact, this new card is much stronger than I ever would have guessed. There is solidity and confidence associated with the role of widow that most people do not know. I have heard many a widow utter the phrase, "Well I have lived through worse." The knowledge that the widow card is actually the survivor card changes the way I look at myself, and every one of my roles in life. I am no longer afraid of being a widow, and I am a better person for having lived through this devastating, unwanted experience.
At my parent's 40th anniversary party I noticed something about myself...I felt whole. I was me, not us, and that was amazingly okay. Not wanted, not planned, not intentional, sometimes still intensely painful, and yet not incapacitating. As I looked down at my yellow shoes I suddenly realized that I was standing on my own two feet once again.