Here we are. A new year. An entire expanse of fresh time laid out before me… and a mixture of dread and excitement about what that means. As I’m reflecting and looking forward from this in-between space, I’m thinking on just how much has changed in my life in the past five years. In particular, how unreal it is that I have become so many new things since Drew died.
In the first year alone, I lost my fiance without warning, left the city we called home, quit my job and left my career as a designer behind and moved out to the country to be away from all of civilization. Effectively, I left everything that reminded me of our life together behind, except for the people we loved. Our friends and families. I guess I sort of shed all roles at that time, without realizing it. I rejected the idea of being anything really other than existing for a while. Except that I could not seem to escape the one role that now defined me… “WIDOW”…
In that first year with no job, living with Drew’s family at their ranch for support, and fighting against the only role I seemed to have left, I found myself coming back to a long lost identity: being creative. I began work on a photography series capturing my grief and telling my story through images and words weekly. It was the first creative project like this I had ever done, and the first thing that began to solidify within my heart a deep passion to create art that tells the story of my life and experiences and to help others embrace creativity as a means to tell their stories too. Suddenly, I wasn’t only seeing myself as a widow, but also as an artist.
The year after that, year three, without skipping a beat, life threw me another curve ball. I met Mike, and found love again. Which is a wonderful curve ball to be thrown, do not get me wrong, but I had no idea how much would be asked of me on this new journey. Suddenly, I wasn’t only a widow and an artist, but now a girlfriend again. A familiar role for me. But a girlfriend to a widower, which was new. And more still, a female influence to his daughter, which was completely new and scary.
Then came moving, from Texas to Ohio, to be near the two of them and build this relationship. Within a few months of arriving, there it was, a new Driver’s License in my hand. I was now an Ohioan. Another new identity. And one that I didn’t exactly welcome to be honest… I missed my roots back home deeply, and likely always will. But along with it came these two amazing people who have become my family, whom I have this awesome life with.
Within a year, I moved from my rent house into Mike’s house. And a new role began – yet again – full speed ahead. I became in a very real way, a mom to a then eight your old little girl. I became the woman of the house… the finder of all the things no one else can find. The washer of clothes and the grocery shopper and the caretaker of dogs and many other things. I had never been any of these things before… Drew and I had never even lived together much less had time to build a family. It felt like 1000 new roles all at once.
And then came 2017, year five. A year in which I was asked to teach a workshop at Camp Widow for the first time… and I found myself in yet another surprising and scary new role: a teacher. A facilitator of healing. Something I’ve never imagined to have the backbone enough to do, that suddenly I was doing…. And might I say, doing with grace and gentleness and confidence. At home, my identity in year five has begun to settle into my bones more. And my identity being here in Ohio has become something I’ve started to embrace more and resent less (though I still do miss the heat of a Texas summer something fierce!). I’ve taken up a few of my own new identities too… getting back to drawing, playing around on the drums, and taking up yoga.
The result of writing all this out – and hopefully it is at least marginally interesting to someone out there – is that I’m looking back at just how many new roles and new identities I have become since the day he died. An artist, a mom, a teacher, an Ohioan… a backpacker, a writer, a yogi, an explorer, and though nothing is formal, eventually in the future… a wife. It’s hard to even believe really, all of that being a part of me now.
I had always said when he died that I wanted everything to change about my life – because if his death kept changing my life, then that to me meant his soul and his life are still changing me even after death. It means that he continues to live on, through all the new, beautiful, challenging, exciting, scary stuff that comes into my world and becomes a part of me. This idea has also helped me to slowly begin to look at the new stuff with curiosity instead of fear… slowly, learning to embrace that I can be so much more than I ever knew I could before.