Almost five years ago, a friend challenged me to write a six-word autobiography. After a brief panic, I scribbled:
Daughter. Friend. Wife. Mother. Writer. Widow.
Never mind how — but for the penultimate word — I’d identified my life story in terms of relationships with others. At 45 and scarcely into my second year of widowhood, that evening I’d penned the final word as just that — boldfaced and final, a granite-engraved epitaph.
If I’d written it half a year earlier, it would have differed slightly:
Daughter. Friend. Wife. Mother. Writer — Widow?
In that first year of suddenly-single parenting, I’d paddled, bailed, and kicked my way from surface to bottom and back again. I’d gasped through the mourning maelstrom of swirling, surface emotions others attributed to so-called “stages” of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. None had lined up neatly (in stages or otherwise) within the underlying, overwhelming, all-encompassing tsunamis of sadness, sorrow, and bereavement. Emotional tidal waves knocked me to my knees at the most unexpected (and inconvenient) crossroads. At times those expected “stages” spun clockwise beneath a counterclockwise hurricane of survivor’s guilt, insomniac exhaustion, career-homemaker’s panic, and endless paper (and paperless) reams of death-related bureaucratic red tape.
And I — wave- and wind-whipped between these forces and feelings — in too quiet, eye-of-the-storm moments of despairing privacy, I’d lifted my face heavenward and shouted, “I’m a widow? Really? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” Other times, when clamoring circumstances coerced a confession, I’d lowered my eyes, head, and heart in unwilling humility before I’d whispered, “I’m a widow.”
The buoy that kept me returning to the surface, the anchor keeping me from drifting into unknown waters, was my deepest, primary, faith-founded identity. When blurred vision obscured all else, I knew (and repeated) one truth: “God loves me.”
Reflecting now, from the steadier, safer street-shores of time-tempered trial and error, I wish I could reach backward to the self I was then, shaken as I was in body and soul. If I could, I’d embrace and encourage the shattered woman-girl-infant I was in those earliest days, weeks, months, and years of widowhood. I’d have promised the person I was that her — our — story wouldn’t end there. I’d have reminded her we’d revise it—plot, character, text, punctuation, and all.
I’d have shown her today’s six-year-widowed version, which proudly cares not whether its fewer-than-six phrases exceed a six-word limit:
Daughter of God; mother and mother-in-law; friend; author, colleague, and collaborator; widow …
Today’s punctuation ends with a deliberate, ongoing ellipsis. What will follow those three little dots? I’ll let you know …
What’s your ongoing six-word (or six-phrase) life story?