When I was growing up, my entire family referred to my brother and me as “The Twins.” When I was younger, I disliked this. Yes, we were twins, but we were also two individual people and I didn’t always like being lumped into a unit with my brother. As I grew, I realized that “The Twins” was mostly just conversational shorthand, and I actually started introducing myself that way. “Hi, I’m Heather, one of the Buchanan Twins.” There was no denying that being a twin was part of my identity, and it always would be.
Softball became a huge part of my life when I was eleven. I joined year-round teams and many of my other extra-curricular activities were dropped to make room for practices and games. I became “the softball player,” and that was my identity for many years. When I was fifteen I realized that I didn’t want to play softball in college and, after being really honest with myself, I realized I didn’t want to play anymore period. I was no longer enjoying softball; in fact, it was making me miserable. Still, I continued to play for another year because I was too afraid to quit. My entire identity was wrapped up in softball, and I didn’t know who I was without it.
When I did eventually quit it was a huge life change. My closest friends were on my teams, and almost all of my free time was devoted to practice. When I stopped playing, my access to my friends decreased (they still had practice and games), but I found myself with hours of time to fill each day. It sounded great in theory, but I was depressed. I joined the track team in an attempt to fill the sports void in my life. I took piano lessons. I got a job at a gym, and started umpiring youth softball games. I told myself how great it was that I could do all of these different things, but really I missed my “softball player” identity and was consumed with finding a new one, trying on different labels to see what would stick. College Student. Sorority Sister. Assistant. Sales Exec. Writer. Always changing, always trying something new.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve stopped searching for labels to inform my identity. Of course, they are thrust upon me anyway. Some are great, like Mother or Wife. Others are temporary, like Unemployed or Out of Shape. And then there are the ones that will stick with me forever. Anxious. Grieving. Mother of a Dead Child.
I resent the grieving label even though it feels familiar. I don’t think I would recognize my life without grief in it, and I hate that. Even with the ebb and flow of grief, it’s always going to be a part of who I am. I was stunned by how much Rigby’s death affected me. I’ve been grieving Maddie for close to eight years and Jackie for over four, so I thought I knew what to expect with loss. Sometimes I do. But other times hot tears will spring to my eyes when I come across an old toy of hers. I anticipate that kind of reaction when I go through things that belonged to Maddie or Jackie, but not a torn up, stinky toy. But Rigby’s death reopened some old wounds, and as much as I might have tried to convince myself, she was never “just a dog.” Not to me.
In November, I am Subdued. Mournful. Distracted. Maddie and Jackie have birthdays this month, and the holiday season begins. When we gather with our families, their absences are more pronounced. I’ll never be able to shake grief, but in November my only goal is to keep it from consuming me. Grieving is only one of the labels that define me, and I will never let it take over.