I studied theatre in college; and when I graduated, I hoped to spend my career in the field. I interviewed with professional companies, became heavily involved in community theatre, and worked for a regional theatre for a season after Rob and I got married. Since I’d been a kid, working in the theatre had been all I ever wanted to do.
I remember standing one night in the back of a dark theatre on the outskirts of Chicago, realizing that it wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I wanted to be home when Rob was home. I wanted to tuck the baby in my growing belly in at night. To my great surprise, I discovered that I wanted something different.
I chose to quit my job. I hadn’t achieved all that I wanted, and I wrestled with feelings of failure. Was I giving up too soon? Should I try harder to make it work? Had I not been dedicated enough? Had I never really loved the theatre so much after all? I inwardly grilled myself with questions. My inner critic was pretty loud. But the reality was that I was becoming a different person. It was painful to say goodbye to one thing and point my feet in the direction of the next. One life season was ending; something new was emerging.
Since Rob died, I’ve wrestled with a lot of similar questions. The old dreams we had together have been hard to maintain without him. The old life we lived doesn’t fit at all with the life I must live now in his absence. Many times over the last year, I’ve stood at the edge of these changes wrought by his death and questioned whether leaving that life and those dreams behind is my white flag of surrender. (As though I had much choice.) I tell myself: Maybe I should be working harder. Maybe I’m giving up too soon. I have interrogated myself to find my “true motive,” as though I’m somehow doing something wrong or sinister in relinquishing my old life and moving forward. As though I could deny the seismic shift that has come to my life because of Rob’s death.
The tough truth is that I stand once again at the end of one season and the beginning of another. The shifts that must come after Rob’s death aren’t signs of my failure or lack of love but the natural reordering that happens after a person loses half her life story. Time continues to move forward, even if Rob isn’t a part of it anymore. This truth is absolutely heartbreaking. In the face of such loss, it’s okay to say I need new things (I’m not ready to say “want” yet) in this life I must live without him. I’m learning — once again — that’s not failure, that’s wisdom.
My four years in the theatre taught me a lot. I met fascinating people and learned the unglamorous, business side of working in the arts. I gained skills that I brought with me into the work I would eventually do, telling the stories of small nonprofits. I discovered who I was as a person, what I needed, what mattered most to me. The season wasn’t as long as I originally hoped it would be. But it was valuable nonetheless.
Moving forward through loss is the toughest work I’ve ever had to do. Ending one season and beginning another is excruciatingly hard. I hate that saying goodbye to my life with Rob acknowledges an act that has closed. I stand in the back of the dark theatre of my life and wish the curtain would rise again on that story I loved so much. Nonetheless, I’m committed to facing forward, to moving fully into this new life even though it’s not what I planned. I need to see what life still has to offer (even if most days I’m only moderately enthusiastic about it). I have no doubt that stepping fearfully and bravely into this new season is what Rob would want for me.