I was talking to a widowed friend the other night about the whole idea of sharing this part of our life and how it changes over time. I remember well the first year after my fiance died. The first thing out of my mouth was this information. I told everyone and anyone. Friends, family, coworkers, customers, the mail man, police officers, the tech support guy, random strangers... No one was safe. I spewed my raw pain out all over the world like a continually erupting volcano.
My friend did the same. We talked about how at first, it is the only thing we wanted to talk about. It is the only thing that mattered. And for a while, it really did swallow up our identity. And we talked about how we felt like we lost the whole rest of our identity for a time to the label "widow". Which left us both feeling conflicted - simultaneously wanting to be completely defined by our love for this person, and resentful that people now only saw us as a widow.
Then we raised the question: when did that shift? When did we go from the hurling our widowhood at every innocent bystander to becoming extremely protective of this information and very choosy about who we share it with?
It has happened somewhere in this third year for me. I've begun to re-emerge into life again. And as I have, slowly my desire to be defined as a widow has become less and less. After two years of talking about nothing but death and about him in exhaustion, I am finding that its okay not to talk about it all the time anymore. I'm finding myself wanting to talk about other things that are a part of me; art and writing, new music and travel, fun recipes and healthy living.
Instead of my widowhood being the first thing I tell people now, it is usually that I am an artist. Sometimes I wait months before sharing with someone new about being widowed. My friend - who's a few years ahead of me on this road - does the same thing. And we wondered, what causes that transition from sharing it with everyone to keeping it more private?
Our initial answer was that we have just grown tired of the myriad of awkward responses we get from people. And tired of being pegged as The Widow. And tired of the unwanted advice. Eventually, it becomes easier to just avoid all that as long as possible. But there were other things we realized too as we discussed it. More positive things.
We talked about how we were so raw at first that we absolutely needed to talk to anyone and everyone about it. Acute pain needs serious acute talking to begin to heal. Over time, all that sharing and other things we've done for ourselves have helped us to heal to a point where we no longer need to talk about it all the time. So the fact that we can comfortably not talk about it now is a sign that we are healing.
Our desire to be defined by other parts of ourselves has begun to return too. This horrible, unspeakable thing happened to us, but it is NOT who we are. So somewhere in this year 3-5 area, we each found a desire to reclaim and rediscover who we are now.
We also talked about how difficult that transition is. How we each felt scared that we were leaving our partner behind if we began to talk about them less or reenter into life again. How we worried that it would make us lose them all over again. This is what I have struggled with largely most of this year - this push-pull between wanting desperately to fill my life with other things again and feeling guilty about it and scared I'd feel farther from him.
What we both found though, is that it didn't make us feel farther from them at all. In fact it has felt more the opposite for me. This year, I've transitioned into spending more of my time thinking about the present and the future. I've started to accept that I must build a new life of my own and begun to work towards building this life into something happy and meaningful. To my surprise, he has come with me every step of the way.
It turns out that beginning to live again doesn't mean I have to move on without him. To my relief, it actually seems to be quite impossible to leave him behind. He is so deeply interwoven into the fabric of this new woman I am that I'm finding that nothing can separate us now. He is in everything now - even the new beautiful things and people that weren't part of our life. Especially those in fact, because his death is what has lead me to them... And so it feels like he is always leading me to happiness. It's been a beautiful discovery which has come out of this third year of widowhood. He will always be.