I never gave much thought about who I am, until lately. To be fair, more like when my husband died.
Things become so ingrained, so subtly infused with “us”, the couple we were it was often hard to see where one begins and the other ends. Yes, two do become as one...if you are lucky.
But, what happens when you break up or when one of you dies? You are left with layers of each other’s likes and dislikes, good and bad habits until you become the onion, crying with each cut, wondering how many layers you will have to peel off to find the core of you, the essence of who you are, who you can now build upon to become the complete you.
For me, I am finding just how much of myself I willingly, but stealthily turned over in my ongoing effort to making my husband a complete man. I was his legs often, which meant I was often many other things too. It was an impossible mission, but I never saw it that way. I would give it my all.
I suppose my biggest self-realization about this was just last week. I was annoyed because someone had left one of the kitchen chairs pushed out from the table. Besides symmetry, it disturbed me on some subconscious level. Why? I pushed in the chair and went on with my day.
A day or so later, after my subconscious had sifted through all of the facts, the different scenarios that may have caused me to feel so adamant about the damn chair it had come to me in a “eureka” moment. If a chair was left in the pushed out position it would interfere with the space needed for his wheelchair to pass by.
I cried. I didn’t cry so much for the grief of missing him, I cried because of the knowledge I spent my last 30 years making things perfect so he could exist somewhat normally. I ignored who I am, what I needed while doing this. This was a revelation to me, another step in the process of living, grieving, and yes dying.
With the passage of time, sometimes quickly while other times ever so slowly, I found myself acutely aware of the differences between us even as I tried to erase, through our frequent adjustments necessitated by his declining mobility. Some of them I made on my own while others were imposed upon me slowly while pervasively urgent. I am amazed at what I am finding out, and surprised at how controlling I have become, an extension of the man I loved and lived for. He controlled me and I looked for things I could control in turn. His necessities became extensions of me, fully morphed into a fake sense of what I like or dislike. In reality much of the habits of my life are no longer necessary now that he is gone. It's so weird.
His brother is now in my sights frequently, as well as pointing out the likenesses between them, I see the differences also. The pain of seeing his living body (so eerily reminiscent of my husband) sitting in a wheelchair at my husband's desk, the same disease present, sometimes overwhelms me. I’ll be discussing some business matter when a pang of familiarity stabs at my consciousness...they have the same hands...I know how they would feel in mine. It is confusing, comforting and disconcerting...a jumble of emotions I often do not want to feel at the time. I spend so much time in the office trying to remind myself that my husband is gone. I subconsciously expect him to wheel into whatever room I am, smiling his smile. Reality tells me he won't be back but my soul expects him.
Other times, the differences in their personalities serves to point out why I married the brother I did. But every day at work with him makes me want to put even more distance between us. I no longer feel like a member of the family. I am now the outsider I probably always was, the one tolerated, yet loved also for what I could bring to my husband’s life, some sense of normalcy. It was a pact, a vow I took seriously right to the end. The end, such a finality to those words. It was by its very nature a dysfunctional family I joined. A loving one, but not the norm. I suppose it is why they accepted me, I too was not the norm. A loving woman, but one outside the realm of most people's realities. We were in many ways a perfect fit.
The problem with this is now evident to me. I grew into a role that had a finite run. I embraced it even as it strangled me. A symbiotic, enabling relationship which passed all musters of measure in the eyes of the world. What lay below this veneer I am finding out is unsettling. I am lucky to have the ability to see it all, digest it and move on. I've been told how strong I am. I laugh, flinching because I see all of me, and at times I see so many weaknesses. However, were it not for my weaknesses I would not have the strength. It is not the end.
I remember the first time I typed those words, "The End". I wondered then how I would know when a book I was writing ended. I discovered it ended when there was no more to say... the words just seemed to type themselves. As I hit the typewriter key with the period it seemed so...final. Now, I wonder if we ever get to finish the essay of our lives so easily. I think not. I’m still learning about the end of his and the new beginning of mine.
Perhaps it is all good I see no end in sight, because I still have much more work to discover who I am, not who I thought I was in my other life. It’s extremely exciting, confusing and sad...but completely necessary. I was never more aware of the preciousness and precariousness of our lives than a few weeks ago when I was so ill. I have never been more scared either.
But here I am, growing stronger, and still sorting out this wonderful phenomena called "life". I raise my glass in a toast to the new things laying ahead, sipping the wine I never liked in my other life. Yes, I am on my way.