My favorite pictures of myself are the ones my husband took. He was the family photographer and collected cameras like this old Rollieflex. The photo of me on cross country skis is the last one he took of me. I like to think about what he was seeing when he snapped the shot. I wonder what he saw when I was in his gaze. I never cared about this before. I was probably an unwilling subject most of the time. But now, looking at those pictures is a way for me to remember what I was to him. I miss being seen by him. I miss those beautiful eyes on me – as his wife.
A few weeks ago when I was at a doctor’s office, the person taking my paper work asked if I would like to put down my husband’s name in case they had to contact him. In my head I said you are welcome to give it a try, but out loud, I declined. I checked off the single box on the top of the form and took a seat. Sometimes there is a check box selection for widow. Sometimes I write it in myself.
When my husband was dying I remember asking my sister, what will I be if I am not his wife? I was trying to understand what that would feel like and I was terrified. I am daughter, a sister, a friend, a mother, a cook, a coffee lover, a employee, a writer, a laundress (when everyone is home), and a hundred other things. But, I loved being a wife, being his wife. I was afraid that without him to tether myself to, I would blow away.
During those last three months of our life together we were better partners than ever. In sickness and health, til death do we part – it was all that and more. I know I am one of the fortunate ones because I had a chance to be the best wife I could be when he needed me most. How could that be over?
What I have learned since then is that even though I can’t put him down as my emergency contact, I will forever be his wife. Whether you lose a friend, a child, a spouse… you will always be to them what you always were, their friend, their parent, their spouse. The world may or may not strip you of that title, but how you choose to see yourself is up to you.
What I did not know, what I could not imagine, were the ways in which I could still be his wife. Every cell in my body has been wrung out with grief and there is no runner up to being with your living breathing loved one. But there are ways that I can act on behalf of my husband, actions I can take that honor his memory and carry on our partnership and our love. Whether your action is big or small, you can still act on behalf of your loved one and it helps. People around me do it everyday.
As my life continues on, I try to see myself as all the things that I am, all the roles I have, all the ways I want to be in this world. I am filling out my self portrait with the people/places/things I want to be connected to. Without a chance to continue to color in my life, I would be lost. Taking on new challenges has been hard, but it has also saved me. If your life has been flipped upside down by grief, I hope you can find your way to the things that will help you see yourself as clearly as your loved one did.
It is way too late and I really should be in bed but there is an owl outside who has been urging me on with his steady who, who, who. I wonder if he can hear me answer back – you, you, you.
To hear the great song about self portraits that inspired this post click here : Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Dive