I have very little tolerance for martyrdom. It’s the helplessness and the “feel sorry for me” mindset. I am the first one to say, “Put on your big-girl panties and deal with it, woman!” If I see someone continuously curled up in a ball, my initial instinct is to kick him or her down a staircase. Not my most empathetic attribute.
A little over five years ago, my husband, Matt, died.
There. I said the “D” word. I’m a regular user of all the euphemisms — “passed away,” “the day we lost him,” “left.” There is nothing wrong with any of them and most likely I will continue to use them. It’s just that I have specifically avoided the word DIED. It seems so irrevocable — so harsh —
so … dead.
Maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to write this. Why it has taken over half a decade to begin the process of putting on my personal panties and dealing. I always had something else more important, someone else who needed my attention. In retrospect, there is no doubt I erected those “somethings” and “someones” as barricades to protect (obstruct?) my own recovery. These barricades even had their own set of panties: the mother, high-waisted and lacking all femininity; the candy striper, supportive and sticky sweet; and the trooper, camouflaged to disguise any hint of vulnerability. I need to get a new pair. My own fresh and unique undies.
Now — for the first time in my life — I am living alone. An empty-nester. A widow. Single. Honestly, I dislike all labels. I would rather be known by my personality and accomplishments than my “situation.” The situation is whispered about at parties or school functions. Occasionally, I’ll catch an attempt at the discreet finger point. No one introduces me as the Widow Gastaldo, but the title is there. It’s my aura.
Then there are the times that I want to scream it from the rooftops. I want to stand on a stage yelling into a microphone,
“Do you know who I am?!
Do you know what I have gone through?!
SYMPATHIZE WITH MY SITUATION!!!!”
I then consume an entire cherry pie, sit down to watch an episode of Parenthood and sob.
I guess it’s time to dissect and digest these classifications. Empty-nester. When my husband died (there, I said it again) our boys were thirteen and fifteen, in eighth and ninth grade. Resolute to make up for what they had lost, I threw myself into volunteering for their football team, their track team, whatever. If they were on the field, I was on the field. Matt had coached every sport they were in from the age of four and I was determined to continue that legacy. This was the era of the mother and the candy striper. Then the boys went off to college and suddenly high-waisted and sweet didn’t fit quite right. Don’t mistake me; I have never been one to pine for days gone by with my boys. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each stage of their life as it occurred. Ecstatic for what they have accomplished and what their future brings, #proudmama is my most frequent hashtag. But the nest is unoccupied now. It is too silent. I can go an entire day without uttering a single word. I need a new focus.
Widow. Wearer of the trooper. Most days I don’t feel old enough to have the title. Yes, I am aware of how cliché that sounds, but it is authentic. In my mind, I am that 16-year-old naïve teenager that my husband fell in love with. (High-school sweethearts, another cliché.) I still have years left to achieve and witness much. Other times, I feel extraordinarily ancient. A lifetime lived-and-done-with, begun-and-completed-earlier than most. Then there’s the look the word generates. I hate the look!!! It passes across their face when your situation is explained and people contemplate you like a caged dog in a shelter that needs rescue.
I swear I can hear Sarah McLachlan singing.
Now the worst of all — Single. Ownership of that designation is still difficult, maybe because I did not chose to be single. It was thrust upon me like a lance that I could not avert. Single sounds whole and complete. But I don’t feel whole. I feel hacked, a fraction of what I once was. For better or worse, clichés and all, Matt was my better-half and I was his. We shaped each other into adulthood. He was my seatmate in life’s roller coaster and now I’m the single rider — the extra. Sometimes, I wish people could see the giant scab that runs the length of me and has yet to completely scar and heal. They unknowingly pick at it and would be mortified to find out they do. Yet each time a husband lightly strokes his wife’s back during casual conversation or a wife gives her husband a look that can mean anything, but only he understands, the scab bleeds just a bit. I quickly wipe it away so no one will notice, but the sting lingers. It is the actual physical sensation that NO ONE warns you about and thus you are unprepared. Unprepared for the craving of non-sexual intimacy and chemistry you used to know. A forced detox if you will, constantly longing for the fix of a hug or caress or casual conversation. There are no undergarments for this, only bandages.
So that’s it. That’s the situation. I know I won’t be able to shed these classifications easily or entirely, but a girl has to start. It’s time to remove the roadblocks, resist the urge to roll up like a pill bug and shop for my new big-girl panties. Perhaps I will head to Victoria’s Secret and settle on an eye-of-the-tiger-wonder-woman hipster. Or (gasp!) a thong. If you see me veering towards the clearance rack located in the Aisle of Martyrdom, please take me to the top of the nearest staircase and kick.
Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com
2 thoughts on “In Search of Big Girl Panties”
I just found this article, It is so well written and speaks to me. My loss is only 5 months old. The roller coaster I am on right now is the worst ever. The highs are very high and the lows are deep. The 2 boys I raised for 20 years are ‘not really ‘ mine. The have a mom that left, and is now the ‘rescuer’. One son does hold pretty tight for which I’m grateful.
Doug was sick for almost 3 years with colorectal cancer.
On Valentine’s Day I decided to go to our favorite restaurant. I had one of the staff reserve me a seat at the end of the bar because I didn’t want to sit in the middle of couples. I arrived and was greeted like a small celebrity, flowers, candy and lots of compliments. The grief didn’t come and I had so much fun talking to those around me, a nice meal etc. I went home to my dogs, my little one who is dying of cancer and slept like a baby, so proud of myself.
Then came morning. I felt (and still do) deep sorrow for being happy. Five days later I am still upset.
I could continue to go on, but thanks for reading. I am looking forward to reading more from you as you are just slightly farther down the road.
Thank you for your kind words! I am so very sorry for your recent loss.
Please don’t beat yourself up for enjoying your Valentine’s the best you could. I suspect the happiness you felt was because your grief was acknowledged and tended to and not in forgetting your husband.
You are still in such the very early stages of grief – it took me five years to begin writing. We all have our own timetable and way of processing. There is no one way to grieve. When we expect ourselves to fall into someone else’s definition we only go further down the rabbit hole of defeatism. The only factor I have found to be universal is that you need to give yourself at least a year before you can function somewhat normally. Even that is an arbitrary timetable. Every relationship – every person is unique.
I wish you many blessings and much love as you go through this process. Please keep in touch!
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