Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Identity Crisis

Monday, June 25, 2012
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Today we welcome guest blogger, Liz Schreiber.  Liz lives in Elmhurst with her two sons, Emmett (15) and John (12).  Her husband, Phil, died eight years ago after living with a rare genetic immune deficiency called Hyper IgM. He was healthy for many years but the effects of the deficiency took their toll in the last four years of his life. Liz always knew he wouldn't live forever, but never in her wildest imagination did she think he'd be taken from them so young; he was just 36. While his health and this disease were never far from his mind, Phil lived every one of his days to the fullest - a gift to Liz and their kids as well as anyone who knew him.

Recently a close friend shared with me her fear of an imminent identity crisis,  as she had decided to  retire from a 17 year career-driven profession to be a stay-at-home mom. I assured her that, in time, she would figure it out, and be happier for it.

It got me thinking about the  multiple identity crisises I've been through since Phil died.  The  definition of an identity crisis is "a period of uncertainty and  confusion in which a person's sense of identity becomes insecure,  typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society." I  think an identity crisis can fall into one of two categories: one  resulting from a choice you've made; another resulting from  circumstances outside of your control.

Prior to Phil's death I  was  a wife, a mother, a caregiver, a career-driven professional, a  friend, an in-law, an aunt, a daughter and a sister.

Immediately  following his death I felt stripped of the titles wife and caregiver.   It wasn't by choice that I was no longer a wife - in fact, technically I still am a wife. I wasn't divorced, I just don't have a living husband. Regardless, I am now called the other "w" word.

Being a  caregiver was never a life-long dream of mine, but I got past my fear of needles (sort of), and became a pretty good one. In fact, part of this  crisis was my feeling of inadequacy, that I had failed as his caregiver - failed our boys, failed his family. I know it's not true but it took a  long time for me to accept. I just thought I'd always take care of  him... that's what I was meant to do. He wasn't supposed to die so  young. True I am still a caregiver... just of headaches, strep throats  and broken bones.

A month after he died, I threw myself back  into work. I thought the busier I was, the better off I'd be. I thought  the more routine our life was with mom working, the more "normal" it  would be for my boys. I quickly discovered we had a new "normal" and  almost just as quickly hit a brick wall. So almost 3 years after he  died, I quit my job. Identity crisis #3... a stay-at-home mom for the  first time ever. As I told my friend, I figured it out and was most  definitely happier for it. For obvious reasons, I've returned to work  but have redefined my role in the work place; I've figured out that  what's best for my boys is a very healthy work/life balance.

Of  course as a mother, I am now a single parent... single all the time. Not home during the week while dad travels but is home on the weekend. Not  divorced with a visitation plan in place. I don't minimize other's  situations, but there is a difference. I am the sole provider, the sole  disciplinarian, the sole caregiver. In essence, I am the mom and dad all rolled into one. I'm not sure what outsiders think but I think Emmett,  John and I have successfully redefined our family so that it works for  us. We're pretty good at being a little family of three. It seems to be  constantly changing and increasingly challenging as they get older but  we continue to make it work.

Phil was the glue that kept our  group of friends together; I've remained close with many in the group  but I've lost some along the way. I will always consider them my friends (all of them), but I just don't see them as much as I should. It's no  excuse, but life gets busy. Other friends in our everyday life keep us  going.

No matter where life takes me, I will always consider  Phil's parents and sisters my in-laws. I'm fairly certain they feel the  same, they have always treated me more like a daughter/sister. Again, I  didn't choose not to be married to their son. I love that they still  introduce me as their daughter-in-law, even when they get quizzical  looks from people.

I prefer favorite aunt! And with this role, I feel great sadness that he didn't meet the 6 nieces and nephews who  have been born since he died, nor watch the ones he knew grow into  incredible people.

And as for a daughter and a sister, there is a saying: "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as  you are to them." I wouldn't be where I am today without mine.

All the other things I still am - a mother, a friend, an in-law, an aunt, a  daughter and a sister - have definitely been impacted by what I am not  anymore. I am not the same person I was 8 years ago, nor are my  children. It is inevitable that at some point in all our lives we are  faced with a life-changing event(s). These events define us, and how we  deal with them shape everything we are and do.


Yes Liz, you have done a wonderful job at redefining who you are and you have a beautiful family of three. You are a role model to many as a survivor of loss who has successfully reshaped your life while keeping your priorities in check, your family.

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