Now reading

Who Am I? 5 Ways Toward Finding the New Me

Who Am I? 5 Ways Toward Finding the New Me | After the Heartbreak
Who Am I? 5 Ways Toward Finding the New Me
Me standing by a tree

My life was all laid out for me. I was married to my soul-mate and looked forward to the ‘golden years’ ahead. A relaxing retirement together which stretched into the future and promised lots of travel and fun times. I knew who I was….and I liked that person. Then instantly all this was snatched away from me, leaving me asking “Who am I?”

Read: The Day My Heart Broke

In those early days after my husband Norbert died tragically I recall trying to make sense of my new view of the world, even attempting to explain it to close friends.

I tried to describe how it was like opening your front door, expecting to see the comfortable and familiar view outside that you had come to assume would always be there. Only now you’re in a strange, alien and frightening place. When you open that door you are confronted with a menacing, swirling fog so impenetrable that you can’t see beyond the step.

You stand without moving, terrified to step forward because you can no longer see where you are going. You are frightened, and the scariest thing of all….you don’t even know who you are anymore.

That probably sounds strange to anyone who hasn’t been in the same situation, but it was a biggie for me. I used to be a happily married woman, a fairly recent retiree, a volunteer, a traveller, a gardener…and a host of self-imposed ‘labels’ with which I felt ultimately comfortable. I was me….and I liked being that person.

When I expressed my worries and concerns to friends they tried to make me feel better “You can make your new future how you want it.” That was nice of them, but I’ve found grief brings out the stubbornness in me – I liked the old future and didn’t want a new one. Also, and this was probably at the crux of it, I had been enjoying the old future for so long that I had no idea who I was when I wasn’t with Norbert. Who was I now?

I knew I was a widow. I hated and rejected that word to begin with, but I’ve gotten used to it. So step one for me was accepting that while I still emotionally felt married, my husband was no longer on this earth so therefore I was legally a widow.

In the early days I spent too much time worrying about this whole thing, and I feel a little foolish now as my new ‘identities’ seem to be naturally evolving over time as I found new interests, began to try different activities and became involved in new things and with new friends. At the beginning though, I felt that I needed to somehow do something specific to find the new me. Friends assured me that time would work things out but my Type A personality didn’t like that answer so I spent long hours in the middle of the night, asking myself “Who am I? Who do you want to be? Where to now?

Being mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister – this is forever. Being husband or wife, or married, isn’t.”

When Husbands Die by Shirley Reeser McNally

For anyone who is supporting a grieving person, I can assure you that you can do no more than my friends did…be calming, be a good listener, and most of all, just be there. If you are travelling this terrible journey yourself, take comfort from the fact that your new identity cannot be forced, although there are certainly things that helped. Here’s what helped me:

My friend said this was the first time she saw the smile reach my eyes…
  1. Trying to live in the present….not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. (Meditation helped me with this, but it might be spirituality or the natural environment or other ways).
  2. Telling yourself that unless you have a really good excuse, that you will accept all invitations from friends and family. (This wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning…but I’m glad I made the effort as it led to some wonderful experiences eg sailing).
  3. Consider past passions and things that you used to enjoy but left behind when life got too busy. Maybe now is the time to give them another try. (For me that was painting).
  4. Give thought to what might have been difficult to do with your partner. For example, my husband had an old motorbike injury to his ankle which made walking long distances painful for him. My first try was a hike up a nearby mountain…something he could not have done with me (and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway). The view from the top was exhilarating!
  5. Explore what can provide ‘meaning’ in your new life. I’ve found volunteering makes me feel good about myself as I’m giving to others. Maybe now is the time to find an activity that just…well…feels worthwhile.

Of course some of my self-imposed ‘labels of identity’ are still the same, as I am still a Mum, and I’m still a Nanna to my grandchildren. Some of them have changed though.

While I used to consider myself a traveller, I now say that I am a solo-traveller, something which has completely different connotations. I secretly like that it sounds more adventurous. 🙂

I am also an artist. Despite the fact that I had dabbled with art in the past, it has become more important and watercolour painting is now a serious activity for me….in fact I combine it with the solo travel.

Drinking coffee and blogging in a cafe
2019: Blogging in Perth

I have become a blogger. Those early words filled with pain and searching for meaning have evolved into this collection of my thoughts which are constantly growing as I record the journey of grief which has become a journey to a new life.

I look in the mirror now and I like what I see. Well, mostly. I try to stand back far enough so the increasing wrinkles and flabby flesh isn’t too obvious. 🙂 What I mean though is that I am now increasingly committed to looking after myself properly. It has become absolutely essential that I stay fit and healthy, and I have found it easier when I get to control what is in the fridge, and how much time I spend exercising and engaged in emotionally healthy pastimes such as meditation. It could have all been part of my past life, but it wasn’t and the habits of the past just stayed. This was a positive opportunity to change things.

Celebrating my birthday with friends

So I can say now that I am a fit and healthy person who walks and does her best to look after herself. She is becoming more adventurous and travels alone. She maintains strong connections with family and friends but values her independence. She is creative, caring and has a positive outlook on life.

I think I’m starting to like this person. 🙂

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

  • Shanae says:

    I lost my fiancé and her birthday is Saturday. I needed this.

  • Joye says:

    Marlene; Your writing is wonderful. I feel everyone grieves in their own way, however, I am sure your experience will help others.

  • Linda Richardson says:

    She is as nice as the “old” person

  • Karen says:

    Hi Marlene, I knew Norbert years ago when he lived in Semaphore & Martin was only 5.
    I only found out yesterday 1/5/2022 that Norbert had passed away. I was shocked.
    Im so sorry for your loss 💔 Ive been reading your posts about your journey through grief & found it very helpful & an incite into what you’ve been through. Did you stay in Qld or go home to be near your family? Wishing you all the best..I hope you are living your best life…..Karen

    • Marlene says:

      Hi Karen, thanks for your kind words…and yes, I remember you too. 🙂 I stayed in Queensland as Norbert and I had 3 years here so had already built a new life. In September it will be 5 years since he’s gone. Too soon, but that’s sometimes how life turns out. I hope you are well too. Cheers, Marlene

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.