From “we” to “me”

My friend’s husband died today.

Photo by Josh Nuttall on Unsplash

And I just keep thinking: How do you go instantly from “us” and “we” to “I” and “me”?

How does a 40-year+ way of being, of living, of thinking, change so suddenly, so dramatically?

(An FYI here: This won’t be a fun, uplifting post. I actually wrote it last week, but wasn’t ready to post it myself. Feel free to skip it.)

When you have lived your entire adult life, more than two-thirds of your life as a “we,” how do you make the shift? What’s it like to realize that—even though you’ve been an independent woman, making your own living, traveling alone, eating out alone—you’ve never actually lived alone? She, like I, went directly from her parent’s home to a home, wherever it was, that was shared with this man. How do you process the sudden end of that, the inner assurance that this is what life, your life, is meant to be?

I have no answers. I know billions of people have done it, after far more years together, but I just don’t understand how it works.

  • How long before you realize you don’t need to buy milk anymore because he was the only one who drank it?
  • How do you decide if visiting the place you’ve vacationed every year for 40+ years will be cathartic and comforting or devastating and debilitating?
  • What is it like to expect his laugh at the same spot in that favorite movie, but not hear it?
  • How do you figure out when to clean out the closet, how many favorite shirts to save, and what you’ll do when they stop smelling like him?
  • How do you make decisions about a house that seems too big for one but is packed with memories?
  • How do you concentrate to consider the financial impacts of his death when your heart is broken?
Photo by Aswin p s on Unsplash

When you meet someone and begin dating, there is a process, the falling in love. It leads to a deeper commitment, one made public, first, by an engagement and then by a wedding ceremony. There is a planned transition from “I” to “we.” Even a divorce, horribly painful, has a process of decoupling, official paperwork along the way as you transition from an entity of “us” to the single “me.”

But death, there’s no transition. Even if your spouse is dying of cancer, like my friend’s, you’re still a “we,” and then, instantly, you are not. You are now, once again, an “I.” In her case (as mine would be), an “I” you’ve never been as an adult. How do you become that person?

I’ll be praying for my friend as she navigates these uncharted waters. I’ll do my best to walk beside her even as I fail to imagine how it will come about. She will get through it. There will be life as an “I.” I believe there will be joy and purpose and laughter again. But please don’t ask me to define the process of becoming so.

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