My shifting identity
When Isaac first died, it felt inaccurate to describe myself as a single mother. When you hear that term, you often think that the woman is divorced or never married. The term "widow" felt most accurate, although I'm sure when you hear the term "widow" you think of a grandma. As a therapist, I'm aware that there can sometimes be an identity crisis in the wake of a loved one's death. To some degree I am experiencing that.
After Isaac first died, I gave up cooking. There was so much to be done and preparing meals just couldn't be a priority. Slowly, I've started to cook again and it feels so good to cook. I still don't cook as much as I used to but I have realized that cooking was such a big part of my role in our family. It is difficult to have my role shift so much. As I was pondering how my role has shifted, I started to feel sad. Even though I worked before Isaac died, my main focus was on nurturing my children and running the household. With Isaac gone, my priority is to provide. While nurturing is still a priority, providing is essential. I don't feel concerned about my ability to provide. I don't feel concerned about my ability to nurture. I feel concerned that I will be able to do both in the way I desire. It's a lot for one person. Heck, it's a lot for two people! I remember how I felt as a huge wave of support came in after Isaac died. I felt so grateful. I also thought to myself, "Wow, I needed this before Isaac died!" Without the support I have now, I think I would probably just shut down. I am learning how to ask for help before I get desperate for it. It's hard to ask for help because it takes energy just to think of what I need help with and who can help me.
Whenever I am out and about people often comment, "Well, you have your hands full!" I do, and it's the best kind of full. I'm so grateful for my sweet children. I sometimes wonder what people are thinking as they watch me with my two energetic toddlers. I wonder if people think I'm divorced. I stopped wearing my ring on my left hand because I would often find myself in situations where people assumed I was married to a living husband. I grew tired of telling people about Isaac's death when I otherwise wouldn't tell them.
It's strange to be single. I'm part of widows/widowers Facebook group and sometimes I see people post things about dating. It's a whole new world that I'm entering. The other day I was watching TV and a couple of shows that I like have single moms. It was funny but depressing to watch how many jokes were shared about how undesirable a single mother is as a romantic partner. I thought, "Crap, is this what my life will be like?" It's painful to think that someone would reject me because I already have children. And of course the logical part of me says, "Well, then that guy would be dumb." There's also a part of me that recognizes that rejection hurts regardless of the reasons behind it. It's weird that this is even something for me to think about! I never thought that I'd have to date again. I never thought about what it's like to date when you already have kids. Dating will at some point be a part of my new reality and it will be much different than before.
Another change to my identity is that I'm no longer a baby maker. Seriously, though! I thought I would continue to have more children. Maybe I will at some point in the future but this is a difficult shift for me that I had not anticipated. Rose turned two about a month ago. My baby is a toddler now! I think potty-training has been emotionally taxing because my children are becoming more independent. It's a blessing because little children are physically demanding and I need them to be growing in independence. It's also painful because I didn't think Rose would be my last. She might not be, but for now she is. It's disappointing to think that I might never give life in that way again. I try not to dwell on that because I'm not sure what my future holds. When Isaac died, a lot of my dreams died too. There were a lot of things I had hoped to do that involve having a living husband and father. I might be able to do some of those things with a future partner but all those things seemed so certain and close when Isaac was alive. It makes sense to mourn that those things won't happen with Isaac. It's harder to know what to do about the uncertainty of them happening in the future.
There are some difficult things about being a single parent. No one picks up your slack. You are it. No one can take over when you've hit your limit. You have to make plans to make sure that you get your social needs met. This means you have to coordinate a babysitter. Things can't really be spontaneous. If you don't think about your needs and reach out to your support group, your needs will just go unmet. It is so crazy to realize how much a partner really does provide you. While I always felt grateful for Isaac and all that he did for me and our children, I have realized that I didn't know to be grateful for some of things that we shared. Sometimes when I interact with my kids or I observe them doing something cute, I wonder if Isaac is watching. I miss how we used to watch them together. As I watch them alone I find myself wishing I could turn to Isaac and say, "Did you see that? My heart is melting!" It is something so simple and probably happens all the time between couples. And granted it happens when I'm with family or friends but it's different when it's your spouse. When you lose a spouse, it is easy to feel the entirety of the burden on you. You think, "I wish I had someone to help carry this burden. It's so heavy." But the more time passes I realize that I didn't just lose someone who helped bear the difficulties of life, I also lost the person with whom I could share all the beautiful and joyful things of life. And that hurts more. Pain is more often a lonely experience. You expect it to be. When joy is a lonely experience, joy becomes laced with pain. You don't expect that.
While I don't think that these shifts in my identity are bad, these shifts were not ones that I chose. Adjusting to so many changes at the same time is not easy. With time, a lot of these things will feel more natural. I will learn how to better integrate who I am with my new circumstances. I'm realizing that grief will change you whether or not you wanted to change.