There is a question that always makes me freeze up. It's not "Are you married?", although that's a rotten one, too. It's "What do you do?".
I think it rattles me so much because it gets right to the heart of my biggest source of fear - that I no longer know what I'm going to do with my life. My identity is still forming in this new life of mine. In this life I'm only 16 months old and I haven't had enough time to figure much out. So, when someone says "what do you do?" I feel like saying "try to put my life back together".
People want to put other people in categories. I know I do it all the time. I want to know when I meet you if you're a teacher or a lawyer or a librarian or a chef. If you tell me "I don't know", I'm not going to be able to categorize you right away and that makes most of us a little uncomfortable.
When I asked a woman I met yesterday what she does and she replied with "Oh, that question is so hard," my fellow-widow alarm went off and sure enough she told me what she used to do and then said "but my husband died a year and a half ago, and now I don't know what I'm going to do," It was like hearing myself talking.
"MY husband died a year and a half ago!" I replied, suddenly fired up with the recognition of someone else who might truly get me.
And whoo boy, did she get me. She told me about her lovely husband and how he died and I told her about Dave and how he died. As we discussed our observations of this new journey we're on, I felt understood and recognized and truly heard. The veil of loneliness dropped away and I felt the ease of not having to pretend to be okay or find words for feelings nearly unexplainable.
We talked about how year two is harder than year one, and what to do with ashes and how to find ways to sleep well again. We talked about how, in our society, people often don't seem to be versed in dealing with the bereaved because it's a taboo subject in daily life. We compared notes on how sharing our widowed status often sends people nearly running from us in discomfort.
Meeting someone else on this journey always feels a lot like being thrown a life ring, or at the very least, having someone join me in the waves so I don't feel so terrifyingly alone as I tread water.
I gave her one of my SSLF cards with my phone number and email address and told her about Camp Widow and I felt the urge to scoop up all the other widowed people out there and move in together.
That would be an idea that my therapist would say is "over-identifying with my widowhood" but it's normal to want to feel as though I belong and I haven't felt that way much since Dave died.
I know that I won't always feel as though I don't belong outside of the time I spend with my widowed friends. I get that.
I also know that right now, the feeling of belonging is so comforting that I need a little injection of it on a daily basis to keep my strength up.
A little fellow-widow booster shot.