One of the unexpected adjustments I experienced following my wife’s death was to answer the question, “Who am I now that I’m not her husband?”
I did not realize just how much of my identity was wrapped up in being her husband. As time passed, I realized it was not uncommon to adjust when someone close to you was no longer there.
Recently a friend shared her experience with me. “Identity is often a secondary loss: i.e., Transitioning from a mother to childless, wife to widow, full-time caregiver to feeling purposeless. For three years, I was a full-time caregiver to my sick child. When he passed, I suddenly became ‘jobless’ and felt like I no longer had a daily purpose, even though I was still a mother. This job defined my days. It (still) is a huge transition period realizing and embracing a new or different identity. I stand firm in who I am, Christ, but losing my son majorly affected my daily life.” (Cameron M.)
One reality of being widowed was the challenge of thinking of myself as a “whole” single person and not half of a couple. My friends struggled with that as well. Some struggled with it so much that they pulled away from me. And for some, subtly, they viewed me as a threat to their wives. That is often true for both widowers and widows in social settings. Somehow being single is associated with being on the prowl or at least “available.”
Connecting the grieving process to the adjustment to life without my wife helped me understand some of my aches. The day-to-day chores and role responsibilities changed. Suddenly I was doing EVERYTHING by myself, whereas before, my wife and I shared what needed attention. Now I not only had to do all that was my daily life routine, not to mention all the extras following her death, but all the things that people expected of my wife fell on my shoulders. It took time to develop a new and somewhat encompassing routine with which I could cope. It was helpful that I knew enough not to make major decisions for a while until I got used to her being gone.
Part of this adjustment was relearning who I was. I was no longer her husband. I was now single, a different person, but still me. So, in addition to the grief and loneliness, I was going through an identity crisis. This adjustment included identifying and being satisfied with what I liked. That may seem strange to those groomed by the “me” culture. But I went from living in a large family to college roommates to being married and, soon, little kids. It was all about compromising and sharing.
Now I could explore simple things such as the style of music I had playing in the house, what type of movies I watched, how often I went out in the evenings, and what social events I chose to attend without considering another person. Of course, that is not always the case if children live with you, but it is very different when the house is silent.
This was the time to take advantage of the solitude, sort the boxes in storage, and reassess the contents’ value and relevance in my life with her gone. I was a whole single learning about myself and being okay with that.
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