“You do you.”
These were words “spoken” to me by my dead husband on the day I prepared to honor him one last time. Clearly, he couldn’t have physically said those words to me seeing how he had been dead for several days, but I heard these words in his voice as clear as day.
I was getting dressed for his memorial service and I was fighting a panic attack as I thought about the fact that I was about to stand in front of hundreds of people and try to keep myself together as I spoke words of honor and love in my husband’s memory. My friends and family had begged me to let someone else give the eulogy, but I refused. This was the last thing I could do to honor my husband and there was no way in hell I was going to let my grief or my silly fear of public speaking get in the way.
But as I stood in my closet and tried to get dressed, I fell apart. Ugly, fat tears fell like a waterfall from my eyes and I collapsed to my knees. I cried so hard I felt like I was going to vomit. I tried to breathe, but it hurt too much. Finally, I whispered to Garry’s clothes (because they still held his scent), “I can’t do this.”
Almost immediately, he replied, “You are the strongest woman I know. I will always love you. You do you.” The sound of his voice in my ears shocked and comforted me. I stood and dressed and made my way to his service.
By the grace of God, I made it through his eulogy with a clear voice and a straight back. His words gave me strength to get through that day, but I didn’t understand what “you do you” meant for a long time; mostly because after Garry died, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Until you experience it, no one fully realizes how a person can be fundamentally changed by death. Especially when you watch death take your beloved person while you fight with all your heart to bring him back. Suddenly, life is no longer what you believed and you are no longer who you knew. Everything is different, including you.
Before I watched my husband die, I was one woman. I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. I knew my attributes and my faults. I knew my likes and dislikes. I knew my past and I could imagine very clearly my future. I knew my hopes and dreams and goals and gifts. I was very clear about the woman I was and who I hoped to become. After he died, what I knew about myself all but disappeared in the blink of an eye. At first, the woman I thought I knew was just a shell and I didn’t know if I could recover the depth and breadth of her. After a while, I realized she would not be coming back; she was no longer there.
In the beginning of this journey, it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that I was no longer the woman I knew and understood. It took me a while to realize that I could not be that woman anymore. Being her again was impossible because although I am technically the same woman, I am no longer that woman. I realized slowly that I had to allow myself to become a different woman, discover who she is, and allow her to eclipse the woman I had been.
It took me a while to understand that I am two women.
I am a broken and bruised version of the woman I was before. I have found that I am the same as her in many ways: I am still a stubborn, snarky, fiercely loyal, fun-loving, slightly introverted, silly, focused and determined smartass. I am still a mother. I am still a sister and a daughter and a friend. I still have a dirty mind and a foul mouth (sorry, mom). I still forget to put laundry in the dryer to start dinner on time. I still use sarcasm and wit as a primary source of communication. I still love Jesus and trust His plan for me, despite the fact that I don’t understand it. I still feel deeply and get lost in my own head. But many of the other things, some fundamental things, I used to be have fallen away.
I am now a kaleidoscope of the mended pieces of the woman I am becoming. I no longer fear difficult things the way I used to; life decisions are easier because perspective has taught me how fleeting and insignificant some of them are. I can no longer imagine my future, but I am sure that it is beautiful, despite my loss. I am stronger and braver and more resilient than I ever thought possible. I am more capable of doing hard things, of speaking the truth, of living in the moment. I am more open to giving and receiving love and less guarded with my heart and my feelings (because life is too short to not love 150%). I tend to find the silver lining in bad situations whereas before I was more cynical and pessimistic. I am more open to adventure and more curious about life and all its facets. I fight sadness with laughter and I want to be around people more than I ever have before. I want to open myself to others and show my vulnerability so that they may feel more comfortable showing theirs. I don’t put up with bullshit and I don’t play games. And I’m no longer afraid of public speaking.
As strange as it sounds, I do not miss the woman that I was. I loved her, and she served me well. I am so glad to have been her. But she was a woman of a different life, a different time, a different reality. She is no longer available to me in this new, strange, but beautiful, life. The pain of becoming a different woman has been profound and unimaginable sometimes. The pain of losing all that you thought you were is a grief just as hard as losing the person who knew you inside and out. Garry would not recognize his wife today; I am different physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But I have no doubt that he would still love me, perhaps even more than he already did. And now I understand what he meant by “you do you”: I had to meet myself again, and do exactly what was necessary to rediscover me.
I am two women: the woman I was and the woman I am becoming. And while I would not wish this type of transformation on another person, I am glad for it, as strange as it may sound. Too often we forget that a rich and full life usually does not equal an easy, pain-free life. More often than not, we will have to suffer through tragedy and heartache to become the person we were intended to be. After all, the pain of becoming is always followed by the joy of renewal. And while I am still very much in the becoming phase of this strange metamorphosis, I cannot wait to meet the woman I was ultimately intended to be. I think I’m going to like her.