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Challenge: WHO Are You?

My husband's death helped me figure out who I am

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It's my birthday.

I'm not saying how old I am anymore because they say you are only as old as you feel... and some days I feel about 67 1/2 and that's way more than I am today. But I will say that I'm getting better.

For the past few months, I've been trying to eat healthy. I have been running almost every day, even on Christmas night, when I took the dog out running in the cold after the kids had gone to bed. So I took off every last thing I had on and held in my breath and weighed myself. I'm down 10 pounds. The person standing naked on this scale isn't anyone I'd recognize a year or two ago. In fact, she's a completely different person —yes, ok, she still cusses like a sailor and laughs loud as hell—but something inside her is different, better. And I'm not saying I'm better because I lost weight. Not at all —I'm sure under different life circumstances I could be 40 pounds heavier and possibly be happy as a clam.


But this new me feels stronger. She says YES to more things. She still has a hard time letting go of some things (including the kids' request for homemade slime and any glitter inside the house) but she's digging deeper to forgive, forget and be better. I don't know what 'better' really means, but I'm trying to figure it out.

Just before my birthday about three years ago, my late husband and I were on our last no-kid vacation together in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. It was a beautiful, tropical place where the water was so clear you could be waist deep and look down and see your toes. My toes are probably the only things that haven’t changed since then. I looked through pictures of myself from that trip and realized how painful they are to look at. I was overweight by my standards, the heaviest I'd ever been (not counting when I was enormous with twins six years prior to that).

In the pictures, I saw myself faking a smile through what I know inside was pure misery. I didn't like myself back then. It was also around the time when my husband started feeling shitty—we had no clue that cancer was just around the corner waiting for us. We didn't get along great then. I snapped at the kids all the time. I fought with in-laws. I felt ugly, weak, criticized, judged, hated in every aspect of life back then. I remember after one fight asking him, "Why do you stay? Why are you still here with me?" I cringe at the thought of yelling at him how he'd be "better off without me."

In those next few months, we'd try marital counseling—again— and then things got worse after the diagnosis came. We never got the chance to make us better. But I will always remember being in that tropical place with him back then, trying to get away from everything, hoping and praying something would just put us back together, put ME back together. But deciding in my mind that nothing probably ever could.

Fast forward to now. I realized I didn't want to wait anymore for someone or some 'thing' to tell me when I can enjoy shit again or start being happy. I was done.

I ran just over 6 miles yesterday. Without stopping. I hadn't ever run more than 2 miles in my entire life. I told myself for years I just couldn't do it. I told people my legs physically wouldn't go any more than that. It may not seem like a big deal to normal runners, but I'm not a distance runner. At all. I've been a sprinter since fourth grade, which means literally this ass puts out then gives out—a max of no more than 400 meters or so. I never had any faith in myself to even try to go more than a mile or two anyway.

So recently I've been out a couple times with someone. He's one of those glass-half-full optimists. He's a runner— a marathon runner—and he oozes determination. He's a person who doesn't do excuses either. So after he told me in so many words that all my excuses were bullshit, and that I should try and run farther, I did. Don't ask me why I waited 43 damn years to try (oops shit, yep, there's the age). But seriously don't ask me why it's taken losing my husband to want to be in better shape, to be a better mother, a better friend, a better lover (a girl can dream), a better person all around. I know I have a really long way to go, but I'm finally starting to be who I should have been with him, who I should have been for years.

I'm getting rid of those vacation pictures. I hate that person I was in them. I won't go back to her. The only pic I kept was the beach shot —that crystal blue water you can see your toes in. The toes are still the same but the rest of me is new. This girl here and now is getting so much better.

Friends, my cliché, lame-o birthday wish this year is for you to ask yourselves, what or who are you waiting to be better for?

This post originally ran Jan. 8, 2019 at the author's web site,

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