Yep. Identity crisis – that’s the perfect way of describing it. I was going through an identity crisis even before we lost Ginny. I think everyone goes through a bit of this before becoming a parent. Your role changes and you have to come to terms with that.
Anytime there is a role change, you grapple with it until you realize this new you. I remember graduating college and realizing I was no longer a student. I had been a student since I was 4 years old! Who am I if I’m not a student? I remember crying on the first first-day-of-school that I wasn’t going to school. I felt so silly because I had achieved my goals. But still I was not longer who I had been, and I had to figure out my new self… an engineer, a professional, an adult.
It didn’t take long for me to feel myself in this new role. In reality, it wasn’t too far off from what I had always done. It was just another way to achieve. I had performed in school. Now I would do the same in the workplace. I even still wore a backpack and carried a lunch pail (they don’t tell you when you’re a kid that you will pretty much do that your whole life). I excelled in my new role as an engineer, and I put my all into it. I put all my energy into it.
After several years, Daniel and I realized we wanted more than just work. We wanted someone else to love, someone to show the world. This shift in priority shook me. I knew I didn’t want to be a power-house executive business leader while raising a child. I needed to sacrifice my future professional potential. That’s the reality, and I knew there was nothing wrong with it. I knew it would be worth it. I had just been trained through all the years to achieve all I could professionally. I had defined myself as an engineer. It was my identity. What would this new me look like?
Once I quit my stressful job to prepare for Ginny, I had to understand who I was outside of my career. I was a mother. I was going to be a stay-at-home-mom. This seemed so unreal to me. So much outside what I had done. My life couldn’t be about performance or achievement – it would need to be about service and love. I struggled when people asked me what I did. “Well my degrees are in industrial engineering, but…” Why did I have to qualify that? Why do I need people to know I was an engineer? Pride.
I started putting my all into this new motherhood role. I read books, watched videos, took classes. I got everything ready. I was rebuilding my identity in this new world. I put my all into Ginny – my body, my mind, my emotions, my time, my future, my potential. I had just come to terms with this new me. I was excited and ready.
Then February 25, 2019 happened. On that day my world came crashing down. I lost my daughter, and I lost my future. My new identity was gone. My old identity was gone.
All the plans I made for Ginny and for our family were thrown away – out of my reach and control. It is an understatement to say it was a humbling experience.
So much goes into your identity: your purpose, your self-worth, your character, your pride. When you lose your identity, it is like the floor is coming out from below you. What do I believe? How can I be sure of anything? What is going on? Who am I?
The loudest question for me was what do I do? I remember asking that in the hospital. Daniel would eventually go back to work in his lab. Would I be left in the empty house alone? That sounds terrifying. And I can’t even think about going back to a job where people are stressing out about seemingly meaningless things. I can’t live like that after this! What am I supposed to do?!
The near-term answer was grieve. I would spend days at the library reading and writing. I would wander around UNC campus listening to music and hiding my tears. I felt that was what I was supposed to be doing. During those walks, I asked myself, “Who am I? How would I define myself now? What is my new identity?” I knew I didn’t want my grief to define me. It would be part of me forever, but it can’t be who I am. I had no answers to those questions.
I eventually brought it to God. I felt so strongly that God was telling me that I am not my career, or my motherhood, or my relationships, or my performance. I am a child of God, and I am loved. He showed me that I love Ginny, not because of anything she did, but because she is my daughter. She came from me and Daniel and our love. I will love her always because of who she is. On a much larger scale, God loves me because of who I am. I came from him and his love. I am his daughter; therefore, he loves me. The same is true for you.
I can have confidence in that. I can put my identity in that. When all other things fall apart, that holds true.
These days I’m still reading and writing and grieving, but I’m also volunteering and searching for a job where I can help people going through hard times. I feel like I should be doing something helpful and meaningful. I don’t care if I am called “engineer”. That’s no longer where I put my self-worth. I am who He says I am.