Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Transitions and Who We Are

Monday, July 3, 2017
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In April, I started a new job. I’m with the same company but the new job is challenging and has an opportunity to grow, working with a great team. I didn’t set out to make a change, it came to me. I was perfectly happy maintaining the status quo and avoiding any additional stress at all cost. I tend to be a logical person and all of the determining factors were so obvious that this new job would be a better choice for me but the fear of making a change that might cause stress or unbalance to my jenga-like tower of car pool, babysitters, and flexible schedule was enough to keep me up at night. I chose to try it, convincing myself that I would just quit if I couldn’t handle it. (I also tend to be overly dramatic.)Things have been going well, but I still worry whether I made the right decision or not.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I had a conflicting schedule that was keeping me up at night. I had tickets to see Hamilton and was planning to go with the man I have been dating since November. I bought the tickets before I even met him, that’s how badly I wanted to see it! So glad he could attend with me, except my daughter had a dance rehearsal at the exact same time for a performance she was to be in the following night, also in the city. Because of an awesome babysitter and extra hotel points, I was able to make arrangements for everyone to be where they needed to be. What caused me anxiety though was that my two worlds were going to merge that weekend whether I was ready for it or not. I have largely been keeping my dating life separate but due to timing and circumstances, all five of us (two daughters, boyfriend, babysitter and me) drove the family mini-van into the city, coordinated our Friday night activities, reconvened Saturday for breakfast and sight-seeing, prepared ourselves for the Saturday night performance and then right before showtime, I introduced my new boyfriend to my mother-in-law who was attending the show. I tried to act like all of it was no big deal, but I had an undercurrent of anxiety the entire weekend, thinking something terrible or terribly awkward would happen. I had discussed who all would be at the show with everyone before it actually happened but of course was still worried. I think I finally let my breath out around Sunday night and was amazed it all went pretty smoothly.

Then, I found out my babysitter was moving in two weeks. NOOOO! I knew it was possible she’d be moving but was just hoping my needs would be more important than hers and she wouldn’t leave me (Sarcasm!) I believed she was the catalyst of all the smooth sailing because she was so attentive, she understood what I needed, what the girls needed and knew how to make it all easy somehow. But how would I handle summer now, with no sitter, a new job and still maintain my limited but newly important social life? Ugh, I prayed I would somehow figure it out…fast, as school was ending 5 days before I found out. Through many discussions, my daughters and I agreed upon a complex schedule of camps, vacation days, work from home days and some stay at home themselves days. This was a completely new concept for us as I have been very reluctant to leave them alone. As young teens, they insisted they were ready and could handle the responsibility. (Including chores!)

On June 8th, I attended my youngest daughter’s dance recital. I was happy to have a distraction in the evening because this also would have been my 15 year wedding anniversary. I only got to experience 8 wedded years with my husband and we were discussing taking a nice trip, with just the two of us, something we hadn’t been able to do before, on our 10 year anniversary. Of course that never happened, and I couldn’t help think about what we may have decided to do for our 15 year. It also struck me, on this day, that my husband had only seen one dance recital for my daughter. At that time when she was 4, we thought the dance class was a one and done kind of thing. Now it is her passion. He never saw my older daughter perform either, and she has taken a multitude of dance and acting classes since he died. These are the moments that make me achingly sad and utterly joyful at the same time, watching my girls in their element.

At the end of June, my boyfriend and I took a 4 day vacation together. Although we have taken some weekends away, that was the longest we’ve spent together. As wonderful and as happy as I felt on our mini-vacation, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that my husband and I never got to spend that much time alone after we had kids.

Now, coming up this month, in July, my John would have turned 50. His friends and their spouses are planning a trip together to celebrate and they kindly invited me along. I greatly appreciated that they offered to include me, but I had to decline. I could not celebrate everyone else turning 50 without feeling laced with sadness. For myself and for them, I thought it best not to attend. However, through circumstances I did not orchestrate, my daughters, my boyfriend and I will all be going on vacation together this month. I’m still amazed that it’s happening. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking to wonder how it will all turn out.

A couple weeks ago, an old friend, who I hadn’t seen in awhile and has been widowed for quite some time asked me “How are you doing?” All of the above came spilling out like a waterfall and I said, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me, good things are happening and I’m very happy but I feel so unsettled.” She said, ever so wisely, “You are going through a period of transition. Things change because that’s the nature of things. You will get through it.” It was as if a light bulb went on, she described exactly what was happening and yet I could not pinpoint it myself. Without realizing it, I needed this uncertainty and unsettled feeling to have an identity and it helped me immensely to give it a name.

Last weekend, I was talking to a friend who is not a widow in the legal sense but who lost her long-time significant other last year. She asked me about dating and how it makes me feel to finally find someone I care about after all that’s happened and after so many years. Without thinking I said, “I don’t know, it’s weird to be in love with two men at once. One is dead and one is alive. I’m not even sure how to process it.” Then she asked me how I describe myself now, do I think of myself still as a widow or more as just a single person. Coming from someone who hasn’t been through it, this question could have been off-putting but I didn’t take it that way because she was trying to figure things out for herself too. This time, I had no real answer for her. I may have used some colorful language to describe what I thought it was like to be a widow but the more I thought about it, the more difficult it was to formulate a clear idea. We talked and talked about the intricacies of the emotions and how they are not separate but intermingled.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which box we check on the form when it asks for marital status.  Or whether we were ever actually married in the first place. When you lose the person you love, every day can be complex and complicated. The emotions ebb and flow, positive and negative, through time and memory, joy and pain and everything in between.

What I have found, though, is that who you choose to help sort it all out makes a difference. Who we choose to connect with, to help us take apart the pieces and put them back together to build us up into who we are today is the foundation that we all need to heal and grow. 

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