When your spouse has a long-term, terminal illness, it’s very easy to devote all of your attention to their well-being. I rationalized for years that there was quite literally nothing as bad as what Megan was going through, so anything regarding my own health or person was minimal.
It wasn’t healthy in and of itself, but in the grand scheme of things, I felt “fine”. Megan was the important thing to focus on, just trying to get her to the next day, week, or month. I would simply hold down the fort at home while she was in treatment, go about the routines, and worry about myself later.
It’s now “later”.
Megan has been gone 5 years almost now. Shelby is almost on autopilot. Sarah is healthy, my work is stable (stressful, yes, but I’m not worried about losing my job), money isn’t very tight, at least with regards to how we’ve budgeted things. My main stressor in life these days is, well, me.
I’M nearing 40. I’M gaining weight, and I’M losing energy. I have aches and pains almost daily, that I’ve never felt before. I’m just plain tired when I get home from work, but I have trouble sleeping as well. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough to “pull my weight” around the house. My blood pressure is high, my mood is low, my face is long, and my temper is short.
I’ve been working since I was 15 years old, and I’ve never taken more than 10 days “off”, even between jobs. The bank owns more of my possessions than me, legally. Most of my old hobbies, that I thought would be life-long, don’t really interest me that much anymore. They seem more like work than release or fun.
Hell, I’m 38 years old, and I’ve already been a widower for 5 years.
All of this has built up over time. All of the self-deprecation, the lack of pride, the realism of aging, the bad habits, and the withering sense of self-loss has been masked, for years. I had no trouble with identifying myself as a title through three and a half decades...student, Marine, caretaker, father. I’ve lost most of those roles now.
I’m just “me”. I’m not the person that carried Megan to the car and drove her to the emergency room anymore. I’m not the dad that changes diapers, introduces new experiences to Shelby that she truly is interested in, or helps her with her school work...she’s, like I said, mostly on autopilot at this point. I’m certainly no longer an active, serving Marine, full of pride, health, and testosterone.
Ultimately, I don’t have many goals that I can see through to completion, successful or not. Those that have a clear end seem so far into the future that it’s hard to be enthusiastic about them. Even Megan’s death was an end to a process...not the end we wanted, of course, but it was nonetheless an end. Laser-like focus on achieving a goal quickly wears me out and/ or overwhelms me.
I’m left now with looking into myself. Every day seems to bring more self-awareness about something “wrong” with me. This isn’t the spiraling guilt or regret that accompanied those first months after Megan’s death, filled with “what ifs” and “whys”. It’s simply the reality that I haven’t taken the time to care about myself for a long, long time. I’ll never be done with the “grieving process”, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is no goal or end to it, and there is quite literally nothing I can “accomplish” on that front. It is what it is.
But losing weight? That’s gonna be tough. Becoming debt-free? It’s taking FOREVER, and it’s stressful. Better health in general? I deserve a damned beer and a cookie and sitting on the couch watching TV after work, right? Better sleep? More energy? More motivation? These all seem like “nice to haves” but not NEEDS at this point.
But they’re all things about me that I CARE about now. I didn’t, when Megan was sick. I didn’t care about them shortly after her death either, chalking up stress and weight gain and poor self-worth to her illness and the fallout after her death.
I’ve turned my widow card in on myself now though. I alone have begun to tell myself “it’s time to move on” for roughly the past year or so. That is my prerogative, and there has been no outside, unwarranted influence.
I’m 38 years old. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime already, and I’ve been starting anew these past few years. Ultimately, I’m incredibly lucky and happy to have Sarah in this new life, along with Shelby. Now though, I have to figure out who I am. I used to just “evolve” into a person or hobby. Now it’s conscious. I have an awareness that I didn’t have when I was 15, or 22, or 26, or 34. I’m aware of how I learn, how I train, what I enjoy, and whom I choose to love, marry, and have a family with. I’m aware of death.
Writing this out and sharing it with others may be a wake-up call for me. I can’t be the only person who has these demons. I can’t be the only person who watched their spouse die for years, never once considering who they would be when the time came.
I can’t be the only person who feels like they lost their self when they lost their spouse.
I love Sarah, and I love Shelby, I love Megan, and my parents, and a lot of other people, but I haven’t taken the time to love myself, and it feels like I’m still in the initial “get to know you” phase right now.