“Oh, you’re the one who lost her husband,” she says as I introduce myself and shake her hand. “Yes, that’s me,” I reply. I wonder now if she caught my name, or if this single event in my life will be my defining feature, the one thing she remembers each time she sees my face. I’m no longer the homeschooling mom, the transplant from Seattle, the woman who brings her own tea bags and mug to Panera Bread. I am the widow with the young children, the one whose husband died in “that tragic accident.” Grief has become my calling card.
Some days, I want everyone to know that my universe has exploded in the wake of my husband’s death. The world can be such a callous, unfriendly place. Grief has made me tender; I want to be treated with gentleness, with extra care. I need empathy, patience, attention. Some days, I willingly lead the conversation with my widowhood. It just feels right.
However, many times as I move along my grief journey, I don’t want to talk about grief anymore. I don’t want to be the widow in the story, cast in this role for which I never auditioned. I wish I could be like Clark Kent, ducking away to switch my identity to something new and different. I want to be “normal again” (whatever that was). I want to talk about trivial things like the Netflix shows I binge watch or my guilty pleasure chocolate indulgences.
However, I find that even when I get the chance, the conversations loop back to sorrow. If Rob were here, I’d talk to him in the evenings instead of stream movies. If my husband hadn’t died, I’d have to share my chocolate stash. Try as I might, I can’t elude this new identity that has claimed me. I couldn’t even be a chameleon if I wanted to. My colors change to grief without warning.
I struggle with the reality that for many people, Rob’s death is the first thing they will know about me. Before they know my favorite drink or movie, before they know anything about my personality, they will know this most intimate detail of my existence. I feel exposed. I bristle under this identity of widow that will define me for the rest of my life.
And then I remember that grief is simply love that continues after death. Grief remembers the love that was, bears witness to the love that remains. The stronger the love, the deeper the loss. When I remember that my grief is not something to be avoided, an identity to be shirked, I am able to embrace it as a precious testimony to my love for Rob. My grief is a love that will endure even though he is no longer here. I can learn to love my grief because it manifests my love for Rob to the world.
No matter what course my life takes, I will always be Rob’s wife. I will always be his widow. Both are identities of love: joy of love found, grief of love lost. When I remember this, I can introduce myself proudly. I am a widow. I was loved by Rob. I loved Rob. I still do.