An identity crisis in Disneyland

Jun 12, 2020

Just a few weeks after the sudden loss of my husband, it occurred to me that my new best friends would be silence and solitude. I realized that I would need lots of both in order to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other.

It was only hours after this realization that my brother called. He was planning a trip to Disneyland with his wife and 5 and 9-year old daughters and wanted me to go. Needless to say, Disneyland is the opposite of silence and solitude. But he was persistent, and I went.

It was somewhere in between Mainstreet USA and Mickey’s Toontown that it hit me. I was completely lost. Not geographically speaking, but in terms of not knowing who I was anymore.  

Many widowed people struggle with identity. If I’m not one half of a couple, then who am I? For some, the loss of a spouse is just one of many identity-shifting events: empty nesting, retirement or career transition, or loss of other significant family members can all shatter our identity. For some, it all happens at once.

In the middle of a book, we turn a page and start the next chapter. Turning the page doesn’t erase the story; it simply means that the story continues to shift and grow, building on the foundation of the previous pages.  

Most widowed people would, in a heartbeat, go back to the previous chapter. Short of that, we refuse to turn the page. We argue with reality, wrestle with what is, rail against our circumstances, and end up exhausted.

We also have the choice, when we feel ready, to redirect that energy into turning the page, acknowledging a horrific, life altering plot twist, and then start writing. Because we have a pulse, there is a present and a future and although it isn’t at all what we planned or hoped for, we can still decide to make it incredibly good. We can decide that after enduring life’s absolute worst, we deserve the very best.

I believe that the more we move forward in honor of our spouse, the clearer we become about our identity in this life after loss. We find our identity in part because of our loss. We figure it out with millions of small daily decisions, through the familiar one-step-forward-two-steps-back shuffle of grief. We choose to believe that we are a person who is figuring it out.  

In that moment at the “happiest place on earth,” when I was profoundly sad, I simply decided that I was still my husband’s wife and always would be, and that I would figure out the rest in time. I’ve done that, but I’m not finished, because I still have a pulse. Truly, we can do the unimaginable because we have been through the unthinkable.

I’m writing my next chapter, and I hope you are too.

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, The Sudden Widow Coach, helps widows who have experienced the sudden loss of their spouse or significant other learn to live and love their life again. Her coaching program is exclusively for widowed people and offers the perfect mix of private and group coaching along with the most life changing tools for the uniquely challenging widowed journey. 

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