I’ve been getting to know myself for 39 awkward years.
And sometimes I do not recognize myself.
My life came crashing down a few years ago, and I have fought to rebuild a life I am proud of. I have dug myself out of depression, tackled health issues, raised daughters, and uprooted my comfortable life. All while moving forward with a fake a smile plastered to my face.
It hasn’t been easy. There have been bumps along the way, bruises, lots of prayers, and a swear jar that should be able to fund a trip around the world by now.
But we have survived.
I am surviving.
When I look back at what life was like for us before IT came into our lives, I can barely remember who I was.
A young wife.
A young mother.
Someone who was so content to just raise my children in a quite country home, full of dishes, laundry and laughter. The picket fence wasn’t white, but it was there. All of my dreams were there.
Then life changed. Without my permission. Certainly without Chad’s permission.
I became caught up in the process of becoming a widow. I just didn’t know it at the time.
There is a process for those of us who have knowledge before the death actually occurs. The cycle of grief doesn’t begin with the actual death when you are involved in a terminal illness. The stages of grief don’t begin when your loved one’s heart stops beating. It begins way before that.
When dealing with a long term and terminal illness, there is time to process it all. I had nearly three years to think about it. Three years to dread the eventual conversations I would have with Chad. Three years to lament on the unfairness of it all. Three years to cry, scream, kick my feet, bargain with God (and oh, did I!), deny, fantasize, be angry, HOPE and reflect. Three years to prepare myself for a life I never wanted. I unaffectionately refer to it as my other life.
The person I vowed to belong to for the rest of my life was…gone.
That is a deep, deep hole that can never be filled.
Nor do I want it to be.
I really do miss who I used to be.
I miss the way I used to think.
I miss the way life just happened all around me, instead of smacking me right in the forehead.
I miss it all.
I miss my best friend.
I miss being part of a couple.
I just miss all of it.
However, I do know that life is such a precious journey.
We don’t usually get to pick the destinations or the route we have to take.
We just adjust.
We forever adjust.
I believe that life is good, even though it is sprinkled with not-so-good stuff along the way.
It took me three years to become a widow.
It took three years to wrap my head around the eventual outcome.
And yet, when the last day came, it took me all of three seconds to feel the most lost, alone and scared I have ever felt in my entire life.
I really do miss who I used to be. I miss the simplicity of not knowing such hurt.
I wish I could go back, almost daily, to linger in moments that seemed insignificant at the time. This me is stronger for it all and is humbled by the lessons I’ve learned.
I read something not long ago – it was the most fitting and poignant statement I’ve read in a long time.
“You don’t know this new me. I’ve put back my pieces…differently.”
Those pieces are a little battered and bruised, and they don’t quite fit together like they did in my other life.
But this life? The one I’m living right now?
It’s beautiful, even though I am still freeing myself from the guilt and the anger daily.
I want to do better, be better.
I am confident that I won’t always get it right.
I am also confident that it doesn’t matter so much.
Who I used to be? She’s still in there.
But this me… she has an open heart, believing eyes, and knows that life is going to be a beautifully tangled web of experiences. That fake smile was traded in for a real one because I was tired of dragging it along with me.
It’s always going to be okay in the end – any other ending is not quite the end, just wait for the good.
It’s always going to be a good day – another day lived, another opportunity to choose joy.
And my choices will always reflect what makes me happy, thankful and grateful for the opportunity to grow from who I used to be. This me is better.