The Person Underneath

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In the beginning, I couldn't imagine talking about anything else. Did you hear? My husband died. I'm a widow. You have something else to talk about? Why? Is there anything else in the entire world that matters as much as this fact? 

Talking about anything else felt like forcing my brain to think around the sound of a tornado tearing through my head. It felt like pushing aside a mountain of heaviness on my chest to speak and then not mentioning the mountain perched on me. It felt insane.

If I met someone new I'd blurt it out almost immediately. It was the only fact that mattered. It was all of me. My previous life had dissolved, the future was wiped clean, like an etch-a-sketch, and the present moment was full of he is dead.

At some point, I didn't feel the need to talk about it all the time, but I felt a fierce need for anyone new I met to know ahead of time. I wanted to explain away my bad behavior, the vacant stares, the rudeness, the impatience, the forgetfulness, the random storms of tears. I wanted people to know that they weren't meeting me, they were meeting a facsimile. Some sort of replacement me who was just a shell with a broken interior. I wanted them to know why I was altered so dramatically.

And then, I began to wish I didn't have to tell them, but when they'd ask about my marital status, or why I'd quit teaching or moved to a new city, I'd feel the words pushing forth no matter how badly I wanted to swallow them. It felt like a lie to not mention it. It felt like revealing my worst parts to mention it. I could see the reaction once the words had been released and it almost always made it all more painful. I didn't want to talk about it, but not talking about it felt almost as uncomfortable. The words still pushed to be released.

Finally, now, lately, I'm not tempted to tell people unless they themselves turn out to be widowed. Otherwise, I have no desire for them to know about it. If they ask and prod, I'll tell them, but it will take much longer now.

I'm proud of where I've come and what I've survived. I'm not ashamed, but it no longer becomes my identity as I meet new people.

It's me I want them to meet, not the widow. I want to stop excusing myself and my behavior. I'm me. I'm not grief or sadness or widowhood. I'm so much more than that. My life has more meaning than my husband died

I am so much more than that...
I am brave enough to quit a steady job and move to a new city. I am extra flexible and bendy, I write, I help people, I sing in a choir in service of others, I am good with words, I am terrible at most games except Mancala. I'm an animal lover, I'm a foodie, I'm smart and kind and artistic. I'm good at science. I like to do basic algebra for fun. I'm introverted but love people, I can be shy. I don't like to drink a lot. I have a million bottles of nail polish. I bite my nails. I own a home. I love to be outside. I hate crowds. I love silence. I have bad knees but strong legs. I hate televised sports and talking about cars. I sing songs to my cats. I'm woefully ignorant when it comes to politics and finances. I'm a good friend. I'm an only child.

I'm a million things and widowed is one of them. It has been the most important fact about me and the most shattering fact about me. It is not ALL of me. I'm more than that and I want to let other people know that before they begin to see me as the widow. I want them to meet me. I don't want to hide behind the shield of widow anymore. I don't need it to explain my behavior anymore. I am who I am, widowed or not. It's not everything about me, even though it has felt like it in the past and sometimes still does. It's time to take off this mask and reveal the person underneath. I've been hiding and I don't want to anymore.

So now, when I meet someone, I tell them who I am and I don't feel compelled to include widow in that description. Progress.


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  • Beth Ensign
    commented 2019-09-14 23:34:19 -0700
    Hmm. For me, I think Widow IS my new identity. Because how else do I carry forward more than half of my life spent as a partner? So much of who I am now exists because of the person I chose to build a life with 35 years ago. I am living a new life, now, and it is not a bad life, but the life I had in partnership undergirds every step I take alone. This feels essential to me right now. Maybe in another year, or 5 years, or when I have lived as long without my beloved as ever I lived with him, maybe then Widow will have receded in my consciousness. Or not.
  • Wendy Klock-Johnson
    commented 2019-09-12 20:27:42 -0700
    You might as well be telling my story. I have gone through all of those phases. The first few weeks, with the closest of friends to try and find some comic relief, I demanded that that called me old widow Johnson. I wasn’t old I was 41 and my husband of 23 years was just suddenly gone. If you take time to do the math we were married more than half my life and to say I was lost is an understatement.
    I told every single person at first, no so much different than the newly engaged showing off her beautiful ring. I don’t even like to talk to stranger and here I was. Hi I am Wendy and my husband just died.
    Thankfully – for everyone – I can see, I know, I remember I am so much more. While I don’t announce my widowed status like the queen is entering the room, that is a part of me to be sure. Some days it is a big part and others not so much.