Identity is a tricky thing. I've written about this before, exploring how we define ourselves contextually, historically and through other lenses. Identity post-loss is even harder to pin down.
Since Kevin died I often feel as if I no longer know who I am. The parts of myself that seemed most sure - storyteller, friend, lover - no longer feel as if they have foundation. I didn't know that so much of my understanding of myself was, in fact, my self in the context of one relationship. Frankly, I find that to be quite uncomfortable and almost embarrassing. I am a modern woman! I shouldn't need a man, or anyone, as my defining element. It turns out, I do. I did. And that makes sense, since identity is often in relationship to others.
When you're in a really good relationship - and Kevin and I were great - you become a sum that is greater than the whole of its parts. By supporting each other we could rise to a higher place than we would have been able to alone. What's more, we delegated knowledge to one another. I used to be technically competent, but Kevin enjoyed creating our home network and similar tasks. So I let him do it. I now have no idea how its wired or even works. Likewise, he delegated most of the cooking and shopping to me. I enjoyed it. He didn't. It worked for us both.
Now I find myself forgetful, incompetent and shy. These are never words I would have used to define myself before his death.
I find I question my ability in just about every facet of my life. Kevin helped me think through stories. He was my first and most trusted listener. He helped me be a better friend. He helped me love my own body. Doing all of this alone is hugely difficult. I know there are people who never had the kind of support I did, and those readers may be annoyed with this post, since they have always had to do it all. If that's the case, I'm sorry, but I have had the advantage of partnership. I have been incredibly lucky in my partner and our relationship. Now this has been amputated and I am trying to learn to walk all over again.
Here is another way to look at it, a story that might clarify what I am stumbling to say. Shortly after Kevin was diagnosed he was talking with a counsellor about his chances for recovery. She was trying to help him understand that his chances were very, very slim. He said, "I know. But I also know that I have something other people don't have. I have Laura."
"Explain to me how yours different from other relationships," she replied.
"Well, individually we are each pretty good. We're smart. We each are problem solvers. But together we can do anything. Together we can solve any problem. Together we're a super hero."
He was right. Together we were a superhero. And alone I am not even Clark Kent, comfortable in his secret identity because I no longer know who I am. I am finding out, but it's a person I never wanted to be. So it is with many who lost their partners. We are in an undiscovered country, without a map and only the warning that there may be monsters, and we are land being explored.
(c) 2014 Laura S. Packer