“Labels are for cans, not people” (Anthony Rapp)
I started reading food product labels more carefully after my glucose level took an unexpected spike last November. The results of the required blood test taken in preparation for my ankle surgery surprised me with an unsafe level and I went into panic mode.
Luckily a 10% weight reduction brought it back to normal, thanks to better eating habits and more physical activity. Apparently my older body didn’t like some of my younger habits. No more unlimited M&M’s and now donuts are only for our annual Beach Week.
When we become part of a family unit, we are assigned various roles and those positions have a name, a social label if you will, that are usually included in local newspaper articles and obituaries. When I came into the world as an innocent baby, I was immediately a daughter, a little sister, a grand-daughter, a cousin, and a niece—just by my appearance. When I decided to connect my life to my husband’s in marriage, this next stage in life vaulted me into the status of a wife, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, step-mother, and mother. Wow! So many roles to fill. So many Hallmark cards to buy!
We are also inclined to use other emotional labels. Some are positive and reflect our connection to a particular person. Sweetheart, lover, best friend, or confidant are some that come to mind. While other nomenclatures denote a negative quality and are usually muttered under our breaths or shouted out of the car window. Jerk, idiot, mindless twit, and @$%^%%^&!! to mention a few.
In 1993 society forced a new label upon me, widow.
I didn’t think that I looked like a widow. I was forty years old and thought that I did pretty well to keep up with the styles. I didn’t feel like a widow. I was energetic and I loved to dance. I didn’t want to be a widow. I had two young children and plenty of unfinished dreams and unfilled vacations.
My image of a widow was of a very elderly woman dressed in black and wearing sensible shoes and who had thinning gray hair cinched in a tiny knot at the nape of her neck. In my mind, a widow would have enjoyed fifty plus years of companionship with her devoted elderly husband. Then one day, he would quietly slip away as a result of some silent, unknown killer. It would be uneventful and antiseptic.
My situation certainly did not match this mental photo. There was nothing elderly about David and his death was far from peaceful! He was forty-four years old and in the prime of his legal career. There was nothing quiet about the piercing whine of the ambulance that took my husband to the hospital after the accident. There was nothing antiseptic about the humming of the respirator as it pumped oxygen into his paralyzed body for fourteen days. Nothing at all matched up with that traditional picture in my mind.
Tax returns required me to check off the box “widow”. The Social Security Office required the same for benefits. I was stuck with this new label.
The “w” word seemed so dark and dreary to me. It seemed so finite. So when I gained back some of my confidence, I decided to shed it and I subsequently referred to myself as a “survivor”. This felt more empowering to me and I was proud to make the exchange.
Next week, I will be surrounding myself with “survivors” from all over the country at The Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation’s 2012 Camp Widow West Convention. (www.sslf.org) This gathering will include all ages, professions, and stages of life coming together in scenic San Diego to heal and find hope. I doubt that any of them will match my previous misguided stereotype. Thanks to the ingenuity and leadership of Michele Neff Hernandez, a realistic, positive image is being offered to widows and widowers. I can’t wait to interact for a whole weekend with these amazing people. Together we will be talking, laughing, eating, dancing, and much more under an umbrella of hope and empathy.
I am going to keep a journal of my experience while I am there. Writing originally led to my recovery and eventually turned into my book. It is the creative outlet that I have come to enjoy. Next week’s post will be based on my trip so stay tuned. I am not sure what the topic will be since I am keeping an open mind and heart. I am sure that more than one story will come out of this incredible adventure.
You can even follow me on twitter @kimkmeredith and facebook where I will try and post some real time information and maybe even a picture if I figure out how to use my new smart phone by then.
Meanwhile, think about the labels that you may be wearing. Do they fit? Or are they just convinient for someone else to use?
What about the ones that you are throwing out there? Do you want them to stick?
“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” (W.C. Fields)