From Wife to Widow to Warrior

Searching for meaning and identity after sudden loss

Last month, I turned one.

One year of being without my love, one year of being a mama, one year of grieving and wondering and crying and surrendering.

One year of becoming. Of being. Of grasping and letting go and grasping again. And of not knowing and sometimes not caring what tomorrow brings.

One year of surviving. Sometimes, gracefully. Sometimes, fumbling madly in the dark.

One year of holding onto the belief that the departure of the man I wished to spend the rest of my life with, was perfect in the eyes of the holy universe. One year of cursing that belief, and of embracing it again.

​It’s been one year. A whole year, and only a year.

Time is a tricky and illusory thing when you’re grieving. It is painfully slow, and it is fearfully fast. You want it to stop so you can catch your breath and get your bearings, and you want it to move so you can breeze past all the pain and sadness and anger, and wake up in a new life where everything is bright again. And mostly, you want to go backwards. You want to rewind to the time just before everything fell apart, that moment in which you maybe could have changed the way it all turned out. Or you want to go back to that fine sunny day when you played hooky and spent the whole day in bed and snuggled with your love and cared nothing about the world outside, and you want to freeze that day in time.

But you have to talk yourself off that ledge. You could live the rest of your life in the past. Replaying and re-examining how beautiful things were and how you could have made them better and all the things you wished you’d said a hundred times more than you said them. If you believe that the life you thought you would have is the only life you were meant to have, then you will probably do this until the day you die.

Don’t. The life you thought you would have, you had. It was perfect, and it was beautiful, and it was everything you wanted forever. But forever is an illusion. Nothing lasts forever, or even a fraction of that long. Things last as long as they’re meant to last. When they’re gone, they’re gone, and you bow to the ground and thank the stars for these incredible gifts, and you choose to continue your journey home.

That future did not belong to you. And home is not always where we think it is.

On July 22, 2015, I ended my year without George. Nine days later, I celebrated our daughter’s first birthday. For months leading up to that period I was consumed by sadness, anxiety, helplessness, and worry. What would I do after the year passed? Who would I become? How was it that time kept moving forward when so much of my identity was steeped in the past?

But after all the anticipation of those first anniversaries, I have found there is nothing to fear. Instead of being forced to live further and further in the past, I have experienced an indelible shift in my being, my identity stripped once again — first from wife to widow, and now from widow to warrior. This new year, is a whole new year. And thank goodness I don’t have to do that last year over again. But look at what I am now, look at what I’ve journeyed through. I’m starting to come out the other side. I’ve been initiated.

Suddenly, with the passing of a year, I’ve been granted permission to experience life again. I’ve begun attending social gatherings, chatting it up with strangers, saying “yes” to things that scare me, and opening the doors to my home and my heart. It is frightening sometimes, opening to the world, my shiny new skin without armor or thickness, barely shed of those layers that once defined me as Me. But as I emerge out of the widow womb and begin to interact with new people and experiences, I begin to discover myself again. The intention behind that voice that was never quite as strong. The vision through my heart that was never quite as clear.

There is an objectivity that comes from engaging with people outside of my emotional life, a reflection that is not based on a historical perspective of who I was, but one that is based on who I am, today. These interactions are insightful and empowering, because as they experience me for the first time, I too experience me for the first time. My identity as a woman, not as a widow, begins to take form. Through this, I ask myself to remain vulnerable, to be naked, to allow this identity to be birthed in its raw natural state, without the mind interjecting its construct of what I should be, of what is right or wrong. This is how I’m discovering who I am now, and I want to know the truth. Thank you, humans everywhere, for helping me find it.

​This is Life after George. Joanne after George. I am surprised to be here, and grateful, and excited, and humbled. I bow to all the forces that have helped me along the way. If you’re reading this, that’s you. I love you. Thank you.

This blog post was originally published on 8/27/15.