The labels I will not own

“Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim” – Nora Ephron

A few months ago, someone I had met just recently told me he thought I was fragile. In the context I don’t think they meant anything negative by it, and yet I was taken aback, and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

Not only is this not how I see myself (at least not these days), but I had deliberately chosen not to mention “my story”, as I sometimes choose with people I have just met precisely in order to avoid this type of response. The pity in their eyes, the frantic scramble to find something appropriate to say, the labels they attach to me, that I am Brave, that I am a Victim, that I am Permanently Sad, that I am some kind of Tragic Heroine because my daughter died.

In some ways the labels are a way of distancing themselves from this experience they don’t want to imagine can happen to anyone. Of course mentioning it later has it’s own kind of awkwardness, because they have formed other opinions and can’t attach the labels they think should fit any more.

But I’m choosing not to own these labels. I’m choosing my own way to frame my story. There are things I know about myself now that I didn’t know in my 20s, when I was constantly trying to prove myself, in my 30s when my first marriage broke up, when I was 40 and living the nightmare of Zoe’s treatment and the collapse of my second marriage. Things I know about myself that I could not begin to imagine finding a way to in the immediate aftermath of Zoe’s death.

The main thing I know now is that I’m a Survivor. That’s the label I choose. And I am not surviving in the sense of just holding on, I have chosen to be Happy, to seek joy. Just holding on isn’t enough for the rest of my life and it’s not enough to honour Zoe.

There are also labels I have attached to myself that I have chosen to let go of. Some I know now were never true, some served a purpose for a time, but then it came time to leave them behind. After two failed marriages and a painful break up a few months after Zoe’s death, for two years I wore a label that I was Done With Men. A recent experience feels as if it were sent to show me maybe that’s not true any more, that it’s time to peel that label away.

If being fragile is simply the sense that my heart is open to new people and possibilities, I guess I could own that too.

Are there labels you have chosen? Ones you have rejected? How have you chosen to write your story to serve your future, not your past? Are you ready to be the heroine (or the hero) of your own life?

2 thoughts on “The labels I will not own

  1. I love your opening quote from Nora Ephron and claiming it for myself isn’t such a bad idea. I’m so sorry for your daughter’s death and the pain that accompanies such a profound loss. I’ve found that most people don’t know what to say, even when well-intentioned. And truthfully, there is nothing that will make it “better” (from my experience). At the same time, I appreciate the attempts at empathy. I interpret the awkward, bumbling words and labels as brave attempts at presence. Thank you for this post. My best to you.


    • I also interpret the awkward conversations that way, which I mention a bit in other posts. Sometimes It does just get a little wearying and it’s nice just to blend in. In other ways though the experience does mean you have some wisdom to offer too.

      Liked by 1 person

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