I'm spending more and more time lately wondering when I'll stop being the woman whose partner died. When that will stop feeling like my identity, when it stops being the mask I put on every morning, when it will stop being reflected in the faces of my friends and family. It will never not have happened. But I am tired of being swallowed up by it.
I guess I started thinking about this seriously in the days after I finished my 50k. It hit me that it was the first big positive life event for me since Mark died. The first one he missed. I was sad, mostly because it took me a few days to realize this fact. It was a Big Thing That I Did, initially. Only later did it turn into the First Big Thing That I Did Without Him. In recent weeks I've been taking steps towards making something out of the life I have in front of me. Scary, nauseating, tear filled stutter-steps.
As I’ve discussed on my training page, the weeks and months after the race have been filled with anxiety. Aimless. I’d spent six months holding my emotions at bay, burying them in the miles. For those six months I wasn’t anything other than a runner. That was my identity. Then I became an official ultrarunner. But as soon I started wearing that mask I felt it slipping off. Nothing else had changed. I don’t know what I was expecting to change but I was disappointed at who I still was. At what my life still was.
What I am trying to accept is that I can't keep life at arm's length anymore. I have to be willing to experience the complicated emotions of my grief but I also have to be open to the life going on around me. It is exhausting, pretending not to have feelings, joking about being dead inside and better for it. If that were truly the case my heart wouldn’t ache as I hold the children of my friends, feel a twinge of jealously as I watch couples share the simplicity of the day to day together.
I’ve built a safe, comfortable, introverted existence. I meticulously plan how I spend my time and with whom, usually choosing to stay home alone watching The Office ad nauseam. I have a handful of safe people to see and safe places to visit over prescripted periods of time. I do not like to divert from that, nor do I like feeling as though I have to defend it. It is only now just occurring to me that those safe people are also the ones that allow me to reinforce the identity I want to shed. To be clear, I don’t think that these friends project that label onto me. They are the ones that I’ve allowed to remain present with me in the After, the only ones I consider sharing the dark moods with. No wonder I’ve come to believe they only see me for what happened to me.
I am only a couple of weeks away from the two year point and the weight of this identity grows as the days tick past. I don’t have any expectations for where I am supposed to be or how I am supposed to feel. I am mostly amazed that I am still alive. But this eats at me. I wanted to be seen as Mark’s wife. Not his widow. I think I’d still have this full and beautiful life if he were here, me being his wife one of my favorite parts. My life now feels anything but full and certainly not beautiful. Being his widow has permeated every inch of my existence and how could it not? As if there was a way to stop that from happening. I just can’t go on living as this person.
I don’t know how to be anyone else. You might as well ask me to stop breathing or being a crazy cat lady. It’s in my marrow now. I’m trying to do things that I used to do. I’m trying a few new things too. All of it feels awkward and unnatural. Like I’m pretending to be someone I can’t be again. But what is the alternative?
I’m taking a few days later this week to go to the mountains. I’m going with new friends, to a new place, to possibly do things I haven’t done before. I’m completely terrified. In another life I would be making this trip with someone else. The terror would be replaced with excitement. I’m trying to tap into the presence of possibility for this weekend. Just because it isn’t what it is supposed to be doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. That I can’t enjoy myself.
This isn’t about what Mark would or would not want. I don’t like to think about that because I don’t believe it is knowable. I’m not interested in lying to myself to make difficult decisions easier. What this trip is about is trying to leave who I feel trapped as behind, if only for a few minutes. Be present with people who want to be present with me. Experience my favorite season in a beautiful place. Let it just be.