The Widow Label Doesn’t Define You
by Kim Murray
I remember the first time I introduced myself as a widow. It was almost like an out-of-body experience because I remember saying the words but wondered who was speaking. I couldn’t believe it was me. I introduced myself as a widow, even though I didn’t believe I was one.
It was difficult accepting this new widow label for myself because it’s such a sad word. Talk about being a real buzzkill at social gatherings when people asked, “so what does your husband do?” and you answer, “I’m a widow. My husband died a year ago.”
In the beginning, I dreaded meeting new people because I wanted to avoid sharing my new label. When people engage in small talk, the conversation usually turns to work or family and, well, my family was missing one. So, I avoided situations that would put me and my new label on full display.
I retreated into my own little shell all those years ago because of a word. I allowed a label to prevent me from experiencing lots of new things because I was afraid of how my new label defined me.
Thankfully, I’ve learned over the years that the widow “label” doesn’t tell the full story. Being a widow means your spouse died, but it says nothing about who you are as a person. Or who you want to be. Yet many of us fall into the label trap because society uses labels to distinguish people from one another and provide a basic understanding of roles and identities.
But is a widow an identity? Or a role? Or just a word?
I thought it was my new identity. As if widowhood forced me to carry this sad, buzzkill burden around forever and ever. Only that didn’t resonate with me on a soul level. Deep down (and I mean really deep…I had to dig), I knew there had to be a better way. I stayed in my introverted shell for a few years until I figured out that widowhood didn’t have to define me. I could be whoever I wanted to be.
I’m a widow, yes, but I’m also a mom, business owner, friend, daughter, writer, traveler, avid reader, and a whole host of other things.
When I ventured back into society, I was surprised to learn that conversations were more awkward when I didn’t lead with my widow status. I took over running my husband’s business after he died, so when people asked me how I got into chemical sales, it made more sense to tell my widow story from the get-go. However, I learned how to reframe my story from there and discuss how widowhood was the starting point of a new business venture for me.
I’ve met countless other widows who haven’t let their widow “label” define them. They’ve reframed their stories too and dropped the disadvantage of the widow stamp. They’ve moved across the country, traveled to faraway places, started businesses and non-profits, written books, given speeches, spent more time with family and friends, or volunteered. They are all just living life on their terms, with no associated labels holding them back.
The crazy thing is, none of these things would have been possible for these widows without being a widow first. So, I have to ask, what story are you telling yourself about your widow label? How is that story holding you back from being whatever it is you want to be?
Your label or identity or role is whatever you decide it is. The widow part of you doesn’t have to overshadow the other parts. None of us have to cram our identity into a self-imposed box of burdens or live by societal labels that don’t tell the whole story.
If you’ve surrendered your identity to circumstances outside of you, it’s time to consider how to reframe your story.
Because regardless of the labels society assigns, you are more than just a widow.
Kim Murray learned more than she ever wanted to know about grief and loss when her husband died from brain cancer in 2013. After figuring out how to live with her “new normal,” Kim created the website Widow 411 to help other widows overcome the overwhelm with topics like grief, finances, and relationships.