Sitting in my doctors office, I looked down at the forms that I previously filled out when I first knew I was pregnant: name, age, address, insurance, all the standard information. And then the section I dreaded seeing again, marital status. Boxes marched across the page in front of my choices: Married. Single. Divorced. Separated. Widowed. They waited impatiently for me to pick the one that best described my role. The pen hesitated in my hand.
Defining myself by what I do is something I’ve always done with pride. Swimmer, drama geek, college student, camp counselor, reader, grad student, teacher, wife – all roles I have lived with joy and confidence. I relish facing a change which allows me to take on a new role or hone one that I currently occupy.
As a teacher, my schedule revolved around the seasons and the seasons of 2010 brought with them a new role for me to embrace. Winter introduced pregnancy, which my husband and I greeted with joy and excitement. Spring indicated the end of my teaching career, as I planned to stay home with the little one who was on his way. As scary and overwhelming as those two new roles seemed – mother and a stay-at-home wife – nothing prepared me for the casting changes summer had in store.
Summer began with the most incredible anticipation of what was to come in my life. In May, my husband and I celebrated my 30th birthday with both of our families – traveling and looking ahead to the wonderful things that my thirtieth year would bring. We also spent a wonderful day in June with each other, delighting in our fourth wedding anniversary and talking about how thrilled we were to begin a new chapter in the life of our family.
And just as beautifully sweet as my summer had started, it all changed within an instant. Four days after our wedding anniversary, I rushed my husband to the hospital with horrifying flu-like symptoms. He lapsed into a coma that day, and we spent eight days fighting for his life in the ICU. In spite of the most valiant efforts on the part of countless doctors and nurses, my husband lost his fight with bacterial meningitis eight days later, and I was left with a new role that I had never planned on:
Dark, pale, heartless, cold – all to me seemed like perfect images for the word widow. I was the wrong age to be a widow. My hair isn’t grey. My skin isn’t wrinkled. I’m pregnant, for crying out loud! This is not when people are widowed.
But it turns out, in the end, that being a widow isn’t something anyone signs up for and you don’t get to pick the time. Which left me with two choices: curl up and accept my fate of tears and mourning, or reach out and grab hold of life and live it the best I can.
As impossibly high as the mountain in front of me seemed, I chose the latter. I grabbed hold of my faith, friends and family with a grip they had no choice but to submit to, and I threw myself into my summer. I leaned into the grief when it swept over me in waves and allowed myself the floods of tears that accompanied it.
And then, I picked up a paint roller…and decided what I could do right now is give Bob Vila and Martha Stewart a run for their money. I painted my room, I painted the school where I worked, I picked cherries and canned jelly for everyone I knew, I replaced doorknobs and hinges, I moved furniture, I decorated my son’s room. When I couldn’t redecorate anything else, I went back to the small private school I had taught at for six years and asked for a different job – a new role – that of the high school guidance counselor.
Being guidance counselor is something I have dreamed of doing for years, but never had the time or energy left over after teaching full time. And now, under circumstances I never wished for, the opportunity presented itself. Each day I go to work, I thrill in the fact that I have the chance to influence the futures of students with whom I have worked with for years. The irony doesn’t escape me that my own planned future fell to pieces in order to have this chance, but I rejoice in the purpose it gives me. Every student I talk to has a unique way of looking at what they want out of life, and I eagerly try to equip them to reach for those dreams.
My role of widow, however ugly it seems to me, is not what defines me in the end. It is part of who I am for this season. In a short time, summer will give way to fall and I will greet the new season with a new person in my life: my son. Throughout all of this experience, I have looked forward to holding him in my arms and teaching him what an incredible man his dad was during his time on earth. At no point in my journey did I ever think I would enter the role of motherhood alone, and I have come to the understanding that even now I am still not alone. I may be the only parent, but I have an entire community of people spanning my school, church, friends and family that are all looking forward to lending a hand and sharing the load. The only parent, but certainly not alone.
On the day of my husband’s funeral, I could barely take in the people in attendance – some guess there were over one thousand. My heart lifts to think of the people who care enough to step out of their comfortable lives and into the shoes of someone hurting, to reach out and help someone through a breathtaking, life-altering change. To embrace life after a shattering loss is a risk of the most daring kind, and one I am thankful people have helped me take.
Now, three months after my husband’s death, I am looking to my future instead of behind me. I carry with me memories of my time with my sweet husband and our life together that I will treasure until I leave this earth, ones I will use to inspire my son. But the dreaming has timidly made its way to the front of my mind. Dreaming that looks to a future of helping people and changing lives, traveling the world and offering a hand to those who need it, as so many people have done for me.
I did finally manage to check the box in front of the word “widow” that day at my doctor’s office, but I know my life does not stop there. This season will flourish and pass, just like other seasons, and its sadness will fade when my son opens his eyes to see the world for the first time. Life will be full of wonder for me again as I see things through the brand new eyes of my precious little boy.