Yesterday I had lunch with a woman I had met at a local cancer support group earlier this year. It was the sixth month anniversary of her husband’s death, and we were talking about all the unwanted changes brought on by widowhood. As we sat at the restaurant’s table next to our empty dishes, we started listing off the differences found in this painful reality. Then it hit me; she and I had entered a new adult life stage.
Most developmental stages occur at expected stages of maturation, such as adolescence or adulthood. Others are welcomed, like becoming a new parent. However, this stage was unforeseen, unexpected, and definitely not welcomed. I never dreamed that as I finished parenting minor children, I would also retire my counseling practice and become a widow at the same time.
Unlike so many other moms I know, I actually was excited to enter the empty-nest stage. Brad and I had been stronger as a couple than as co-parents. I suspected life would feel calmer once my youngest started college. Albeit I’m embarrassed to admit this, for the past year I have been secretly counting down the months until my last son left for school until all hell broke loose with Brad’s diagnosis of terminal cancer.
As I looked across the table at my friend, I noticed she seemed more peaceful. She showed me her ringless left hand and shared that she was looking forward to starting classes at a local college. Her level of acceptance of being on her own and even her ability to embrace this unwanted loss struck a chord in me. Lately, I have felt such anger and hopelessness about being a widow. More times than I can count, I have cried bitter tears of loss and rage. Although I wanted to resist it with every fiber of my being, I could see just a hint of a silver lining to this stage. I get to redefine myself.
Meeting Brad as I was turning 20 and married two short years later meant my adulthood identity was defined by how we viewed life and responsibilities. Evening downtime were shaped by our mutual interests and commonalities. Our diet had to please both of us. Even music choices was a couple decision. I became an adult woman while I was also a married woman, and it was my marriage which had the most influential impact on my adult identity.
Leaving lunch I walked into my clothes closet and looked at its selection. I remembered wearing the long lavender dress to a Christmas party over ten years ago. Several shirts were my summer go-to for work. I realized that the skirts hadn’t been worn in over fifteen years and that I hadn’t been able to let go of them because they were from my younger mom days. Why was this bygone wardrobe still taking up space in my small closet? Did they still represent me? Especially the me I am becoming today?
A massive purge began which resulted in not one, two, or even three bags, but four full bags! Four full-to-the-brim bags of clothing made their way to Goodwill last night.
As I worked through my closet and considered whether I would keep each shirt, skirt, jacket, or pair of pants, I realized that this period of time marked the first in over 33 years of not trying to make mutually pleasing decisions. I now go to bed when I want, listen to a wider variety of music, avoid making dinner as much as possible, and have a neater house. For the first time in my adult life there is no one but myself to make happy. And, I am wondering how much do I really know about this person?
I didn’t embark on this journey intentionally, but it is the road I must walk. I can use it, however, to learn new things about myself. It gives me a unwelcome opportunity to ask myself what defines me, what do I like as I enter my 50’s, and what are my new goals. And maybe I will discover some other so-to-speak closets waiting for me to purge.