The Identity Crisis of Widowhood

Three years ago if you had asked me, “Do you know yourself?” I would have answered with a resounding, “You betcha!” I am an introspective person. But now I laugh at my cluelessness of yester years.

I married at 21. I wanted to be a wife and mother and be in ministry. Those were my goals in life. My husband was divorced with two boys. He owned his own repair shop. He was the type that was always on the go. A visionary. He lurched into decisions without hesitation. And I followed.

Our whole married life – 13 years – consisted of five main things. One, the schedule with my stepsons. Two, our businesses and the responsibilities connected with them. Three, our various ministries. Four, his whims, which varied from something as simple as going for ice cream on the spur of the moment to starting some brand new venture because he wanted to. Five, most importantly, investing into each other.

When he died, within six months, I had given up our businesses. I stepped away from our ministry for several personal reasons. My stepsons were grown. And he wasn’t here to follow.

Everything my adult life had been built around was gone. The earth had crumbled underneath me.

I looked at my life and recognized nothing. Besides for living in the same house and parenting our daughters, nothing about my life was the same. And the question that weighed on my mind was…… “What do I do with myself?” From daily routine “what do I do with myself”, to long term “what do I do with myself”, it was all a big fat question mark that felt like a huge weight stacked on top of my already burdensome grief.

I found myself in this strange position. My life was a blank canvas. I could do anything. Live anywhere. Be anything. Shoot for the starts.

And I had absolutely no idea what I wanted. He wasn’t here to follow anymore. Everything was upended.

Every single decision reminded me of my changed life. As I’m running errands, deciding where to eat lunch, I realized there was no one else to confer with. I alone made that decision. When the dog got sick, I couldn’t call and talk it through with him. I alone made that decision. And every time I faced a decision alone, the hollow, resounding question, “what do I want?” reverberated back with an equally hollow, “I have no idea.”

As a full-fledged, established adult, it’s a terrifying notion to not know. After years of owning our own home, parenting multiple kids, running several ministries and businesses, to be left by yourself and feel utterly lost and without purpose because most of your purpose was uniquely tied to another who was no longer here is a shock to the system. I mean, I felt I knew myself really well. Then, BAM. A plot twist puts you on a blank path and you feel like a fish flopping on the deck.

As widows, our identity had morphed with another. For many of us, our whole adult life was shaped in conjuction with another’s tastes, wants and goals. And when that is ripped away, we struggle to recognize ourselves. We struggle to know which parts of what is left is truly “me” and which is our partner’s influence and blending of “me”.

woman in black shirt facing mirror
Photo by Ivan Obolensky on Pexels.com

My husband was the visionary. The enforcer. The mechanic. The confronter. What “I” became as an adult was one part of a two piece puzzle. What I became as an adult was directly relational to what my marriage needed…what worked….what blended….what balanced the equation. What parts are “me” and what parts made “us”? What goals are “me” and what goals were “us”? What characteristics are truly “me” and which were formed as an “us”?

Am I scared to conquer new things simply because that’s how I am or is it because for 14 years I had someone next to me always willing and capable to handle what I couldn’t? Am I organized because that is simply me or because that is how I compensated for the busy life of responsibility we had and his constant ventures in which he was clueless on how to think through the details? Am I not spontaneous because that is me or because he was spontaneous enough for the both of us and I kept occupied simply keeping up with him? The goals we had with our two acres, are they still my goals by myself? The type of ministry we had together, is that still where God is calling me by myself? And my questions could go on and on.

My adult self was formed as part of a set. Who am I alone? What am I alone? Where am I headed alone? What makes “me”, me alone?

Good questions. I am still figuring them out.

The loss of identity and the renaissance of a new one is a crucial and complex matter in widowhood. It is also one that isn’t quick to resolve itself. We feel lost for a good while until we start finding ourselves again. It remains one of the biggest burdens for me even two and a half years down the road. This is one way widowhood is unique among various relationships of grief. Losing your life partner creates an identity crisis. For many widows who are still struggling years later, besides for the acute missing of their loved one, this is the issue haunting them. When you don’t know who you are, you feel lost. When you don’t know what to do, you feel like a stranger in your own life. When you don’t know what goals you have, you feel aimless. The loss of identity, purpose and belonging, all wrapped into one package as the loss of marriage, pulls the rug out from under your feet and makes you feel like the world is spinning around you and you can’t seem to stop being dizzy long enough to gain any bearing.

So as I look at my life and think to myself, “Alisha, you can make this life whatever you want it to be”, I still struggle to know what I want. Where do I want to live long term? What do I want to do? What ministry calls my heart? Where do I see myself in ten years? (that particular question really makes me laugh) What are my dreams? What are my favorites?

I.       Simply.        Don’t.        Know.

The hardest part is peeling away your grip off the life you knew, to be able to embrace the possibilities of this new, unwanted one. Finger by finger. Heartstring by heartstring. Day by day. To create a new identity as…..you….Just you.

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