Monday, January 7, 2013

My Lost Identity

Throughout our lives, we take on several identities. For me, I have been Breanna's little sister, Nick's older sister, the tennis player, the church kid, the college student, and the funny one. Each identity shapes us into who we are in this life. And regardless of how long we inhabit these identities, they are special. Some of them we hold on to our entire lives, some we grow out of, and some we lose before we are ready.

During the past three and a half years of my life, I have inherited some new identities that have significantly changed the person that I am today. I spent 2009 as the cancer patient, 2010 as Dan's wife, and proudly as Dan's widow, and 2011/2012 as the cancer patient once again. Well here it is 2013, and I have no identity. I do not know who I am. This is one of the scariest realizations that I have made in the past few days, and I am not quite sure how to process it. 

As painful and terrifying as it was to become a CANCER PATIENT, it also provided me with a sense of self; an identity. And as I battled through each round of chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous surgeries, I did it all with as much strength and poise as I could possibly muster up. And as I conquered cancer for the first time, I was proud be to known as a SURVIVOR. This was an identity that I was so happy to own, and prayed that it would last. 

Within weeks of becoming cancer free, I was elated to become someones FIANCE; even more happy to be Dan's fiance. And five and a half short months later, I became his WIFE. Me, a WIFE? It was so hard to comprehend, but it was such an honor! My new identity was forever linked with his. I was officially a "Johnson", and I was loving every single moment of it. And each time that Dan said the words, "my wife," I would get goosebumps immediately. He was so proud to have me on his arm, and I was so proud to be there. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to be his wife for very long. Four months. Sixteen weeks. One hundred and twelve days. I was hoping for sixty years. But life had other plans.

And on October 5, 2010, I took on a whole new identity that I was so unprepared for; I became a WIDOW. This identity threw me for a loop and turned my entire world completely upside down. Everything in my life had gone pear-shaped, yet I was more proud than I had ever been in my entire life. And when I would meet new people, namely military personnel, and I was introduced as, "Dan's widow", I was so humbled. I stood tall and owned this new identity. Each time that I was recognized for being Dan's widow was wonderful for me. People knew who my Husband was, and recognized the sacrifice that he had made for our country. This made the process all a bit more bearable. But unfortunately, as time passes by, I am losing this identity. And I am struggling with that. As I experienced all of the "firsts" since his passing, I felt as though these events were celebrated. But as I began to experience the seconds, and now thirds, these events often pass with little regard as to how I am doing without him. And this is not to put down any of the people in my life, because I am so blessed to be surrounded with people who love me and support me through everything. But naturally, everyone else moves on with their lives, as I continue to miss Dan and grieve the loss of my Husband every single second of every single day. And I know that I am in large part to blame for this. I hide my pain well, VERY well. Few people have seen me break down and lose it. I put on a strong face. So how can I expect others to know the pain that is behind my mask?

And perhaps the hardest part of this process is feeling that I am losing my EOD family. I know that I will forever have a connection with them, but it is not as strong as it once was. I feel as though I am losing my identity within the group. And this was bound to happen eventually. The majority of those who were around when Dan passed have moved away, and things have definitely changed, by no fault of anyone. Now as I continue to grieve the loss of my Husband, I am grieving the loss of something that is very special to me. I will forever love each and every one of them, but as time moves on, so must they. However, I will cling to this group as best I can. I need them, whether they know it or not. I need their friendship. I need their support. Feeling connected to them is feeling connected to Dan. They are an amazing group of people that I am honored to know.

And as I became the CANCER PATIENT yet again, it became a huge part of who I was, and who I have been for the past eighteen months. Especially with the risky surgery and horrific recovery process, I feel as though it has molded who I am and taken hold of me ever more. I was the sick one. The weak one. The "brave" one. And now, that identity is also gone. I am no longer a cancer patient. I am no longer a wife. I am still a widow, but I am over two years in and according to many should be, "okay." That being said, here I am, feeling completely empty and utterly lost. I felt as though I knew myself more when I was experiencing grief, pain, sadness and sickness. Is that normal? Now that I am healthy and can do anything I want, I am at a loss. And perhaps it is because I am experiencing these emotions, but it seems as though everyone around me is thriving in this life. People are flourishing in their jobs, having babies, getting married; all things that I hoped to be doing in this phase of my life. Instead, I am literally starting from scratch. Most would see this as a great opportunity. But me, I see this as an extreme challenge, and I have no idea where to begin. 

All I can do now is trust in God. He has gotten me through the very worst of this life, and I know that He will walk me through this very confusing and trying time. I try to remind myself when I become overwhelmed with this new life, that I am indeed CANCER FREE. I am healthy and have plenty of time left on this earth. I am the WIDOW of a great and wonderful man. And most importantly, I am a CHILD OF GOD. That is where I find my identity. I am blessed beyond measure to belong to such a loving heavenly Father, an amazing family, and the best friends that any person could ask for. I may have entered 2013 with no identity at all, but I vow to find myself again and make the very best of every situation!