Before you meet your person, the one who will stick, you are someone—a person all your own. Or a collection of characteristics you think of as a person. You have an identity. We all picture ourselves in a particular way, affected by whatever has been going on in our lives.
I remember the person I was when I met him. She was a worried thirty-seven-year-old divorced mother with one son. She wrote articles for regional publications and worked on fiction that went nowhere.
Then she met him, and after some back-and-forthing, they stuck, and she became his partner and his wife.
We were lucky enough to be a couple for nearly forty years.
During those years my identity evolved into something more symbiotic. It became entwined with the person and identity of my husband. I didn’t realize the extent of the interweaving until he died.
The absence created by his death left me in the condition of a hill-side house after a mudslide removes half the ground supporting it.
The house may have been a home before the slide. A safe place for a family. A place in which to raise children and where a couple might grow old together.
After the mudslide, you walk across its floors at considerable peril. What has that house become? It is certainly no longer what it was.
In the same way, after the loss of the beloved, who am I? Who have I become?
I don’t have an answer. Most people in that situation don’t have one, either.
I know I can’t remain defined by the subtraction, although it’s tempting. Settle in to being “the widow of.” I might almost get used to the words. I might let myself think that’s really all I am, that person—neatly contained within what remains of his much loved identity.
Whatever I do, I can’t return to being the woman I was when I met my husband. I’m forty years older. All the defining responsibilities back then have changed. My son is grown, has his own family, his own children.
If they lived nearby, which they do not, the demands of the present would pull me forward into the future, however murky it may seem.
But I have also changed in a deeper way. Life with Leon Hale expanded me. He was open, curious, embracing whatever might lie ahead. Interested in all that went on around him.
With him, I learned to think optimistically, to resist the appeal of a downward spiral when things seem momentarily dark. I’ve been grieving his loss, yes, for eleven months. A tremendously painful experience, and one unlike any I had imagined. But during this whole period of grieving, I haven’t been depressed.
Grief is different from depression, I think. It has been for me. Although there are moments when I feel like I’m falling off the edge of that teetering house, they remain, usually, just moments. Sure, the temporary pain that comes with them can be stunning, but I don’t think it’s as dangerous as depression.
And I am told that the worst moments will hurt a little less and come less often as time passes. I will have more energy with which to engage the future. The unknown future, yes, but furnished with many beloved artifacts of the coupled life that ended with his death. Familiar ones: Friends, family, our dog, the table where I work, the work itself. Many more.
And from these, and memory, and my continuing love for the absent spouse, I will cobble this, the third configuration of my Self.
Whoever she will be.