Widow Asks: Who Am I Now?

Who am I now? Who am I really? It’s a question nearly everyone grapples with at some point in life—when you retire, after you graduate, after a major success or failure, after the death of someone important to you.

Nearly all of our lives, we are defined by our relationship to someone else—we are someone’s daughter, sister, wife, mom, widow. You probably have friends you describe that way—your minister’s wife, your friend’s daughter, your boss’ spouse. It’s a way of connecting the dots of your relationships.

For years, many of my acquaintances knew me primarily as Erin and Beau’s mom. I still cherish that role and—if I need to have a label—that’s one I choose. But my children are adults living their own lives, and my day-to-day, hour-by-hour mothering chores have greatly diminished.

Identity May Be Threatened

When my children left for college, I moved into my “Dale’s wife and administrative assistant” years. I spent hours a day talking on the phone with Dale’s clients, who knew me first as his “scheduler” and were later surprised to know me as his spouse. Dale told me nearly every day that he couldn’t do it without me.

I felt needed and fulfilled. When Dale died, I not only lost my husband, but I also lost my career identity. I felt like “a (wo)man without a country.” Who am I now?

Are you in this place, too? While you may still be someone’s child, a mom, and a widow, you may be struggling with who you really are without those labels. Did life as you knew it cease to exist when your spouse died? Did it feel like you became a completely different and invisible person? For me, the process continues.

Becoming ‘Perfect Widow’

After Dale died, I made a conscious decision to become “the perfect widow.” When I look back to that decision, I think, Why would I choose that label as how I’d like for people to see me? But choose I did. I wanted to honor my marriage and to have people think I could handle Dale’s death in a God- and husband-honoring fashion.

Dale and I were very active at our church, and we knew a lot of people. On the day following Dale’s funeral, Erin sang at each service at Mountain Park. Allan, our senior pastor, spoke about Dale’s death each time he introduced Erin. I was there for the third service, and there was an audible gasp.

Dale had died during spring break week, and a number of people had just returned from vacation the night before. They hadn’t yet heard.

Accepting Support

I left just before the service ended because I didn’t think I could handle the benevolence that would follow. I am a crier of the highest order and—for sure—I would lose it.

When I returned to women’s Bible study a couple of weeks later to share Dale’s story, there was an outpouring of love unequaled in my experience. We hugged, cried, and hugged some more. They prayed for me, provided meals, sent cards. One friend sent a card every week for a year. People I didn’t know well called to check on me.

One of my strongest memories of that time was also the most interesting. A woman attending my Bible study pulled me aside after class one day.

“I wanted to tell you that I’ve been watching you.”

My first thought was, Huh? Watching me?

“I wanted to see how you would handle all of this. You always seem so upbeat and positive; I wanted to see how you would handle the loss of your husband. Are you still optimistic now?”

My second thought was, Well, that’s honest.

Even Perfect Widow Asks: Who Am I Now?

She went on to say she was impressed and surprised with my composure and I must really believe all of this “God stuff.”

The “perfect widow persona” must have been working—to the outside observer. On the inside? Not so much. What about you? Perfect widow? Total wreck? Somewhere in between?

With Dale’s death, I lost two of my main “identifiers”: Dale’s wife and Dale’s administrative assistant. The vast majority of my time for the past twenty years had been spent filling those two roles. Most of the rest of it was spent serving at church—where I was wearing my “perfect widow” mask.

So when someone I knew only casually admitted she’d been watching me, I doubled down on my mask. It kept me busy for most of the first year of widowhood.

A Friend’s Story

My friend Penny was worried about her mom when her dad died after a short battle with lung cancer. Penny and her sister stayed after her dad’s funeral to help Lucy clean out closets, get her paperwork in order, and handle her finances. They stayed busy getting her settled into her new life, but Penny was impatient with the way Lucy was handling widowhood. Lucy wasn’t getting out enough. She ate popcorn for dinner. She was only sixty-three and was acting like the best years of her life were behind her.

Penny didn’t realize then that you never really “settle” into anything. She didn’t know until her own husband, Paul, died six years later.

I didn’t get it when my dad died, either. I hate to tell you, but the truth is my emotions didn’t catch up with me until year two of widowhood. After I’d taken charge of my financial universe, written all of the thank-you notes, and marked all of life’s annual events, I hit the “What now?” wall. I was fifty-seven years old, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wasn’t working, my kids were grown, our big transition at church was complete, and—for the first time in my life—I questioned my identity.

Question Recurs: Who Am I Now?

In his book, Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges discusses “the difficult process of letting go of an old situation, of suffering through the confusing nowhere of in-betweenness, and of launching forth again in a new situation.”1 I could totally relate to the “confusing nowhere of in-betweenness,” but I was far from embracing my new situation.

It’s one thing to know that you’ve lost your spouse, but it’s an entirely different psychological process to reorient and redefine yourself after that devastating event. You know you “have crossed some kind of threshold and there’s no going back. [Your] old life is gone,” but you haven’t yet encountered anything that feels like a new beginning.2

But I knew I didn’t want to be the perfect widow forever. You too? It’s exhausting. And—more importantly—it has nothing to do with the truth.

1 William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Cambridge,

MA: DaCapo Press, 2004), 4.

2 Ibid., 10.

Read more by Kim Knight at https://www.opentohope.com/after-the-casser…ock-of-widowhood/

Check out Kim Knight’s book at Widow’s Might: Embracing Life after the Loss of Your Spouse – An Encouraging Book for Widows Dealing with Grief and Loss: Knight, Kim: 9781424551118: Amazon.com: Books

Kim Knight

Widow’s Might is Kim Koeneman Knight’s first book. Kim holds as Master of Education in Office Administration/Business Education and taught business skills at the college level for many years. She was once named the Colorado Business Skills Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Private School Association, KMGH-TV, and The Denver Post. Kim has appeared on nationally and internationally syndicated radio and television shows and has served as the keynote speaker for numerous investment seminars and Christian retreats. Kim lived in Phoenix from 2006 – 2014 and was very active at Mountain Park Community Church, where she led the Women’s Ministry and the Career Transition Team and served on the Board of Servant Leaders. In 2014 Kim moved to Dana Point, California, where she served on the Women’s Leadership Team at Capo Beach Church. Kim moved to Naples, Florida, in 2020 and provides resume writing and interviewing skills guidance as an ongoing ministry. She leads a women’s Bible study and has taken on her favorite role of “Kiki”—grandma to her darling granddaughter, Elliott.

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