Every summer, I go through a period of "existential crisis." Not a big, scary crisis as in "life has no meaning," but a baby one, as in "I no longer have a job to do and feel lost." I'm sure it's a common feeling for many teachers, although most might not choose the term "existential crisis."
Again, I defer to Wikipedia if you're unfamiliar with the phrase "existential crisis." While the wikis have their shortcomings, it is a good source of group think and common knowledge. Let's examine the first line of the entry:
An existential crisis is a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life: whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value.
I'm not very fond of the word "crisis." It sounds too much like "emergency," as in, if you don't resolve this crisis, bad sh*t is going to happen. Soon. Guess what... Bad sh*t has already happened.
I doubt there is any way to be truly prepared for a loved one's death, especially a spouse. Aimee and I chose not to include a unity candle lighting at our wedding because we both felt the idea of two people becoming one was a bit old-fashioned. Here's what I learned after nearly eleven years of marriage: you will become pretty damned entwined with your partner. If not exactly "one" flesh, the you learn the other's moves before he/she makes them. Losing Aimee has caused a major rift in my thinking about myself and my place in the world--in addition to the pain and grief of her death.
All relationships change over time, regardless of how intimate the relationship. But most changes are gradual, even if at times marked with periods of sudden, but small shifts. A death is a sudden, violent change. Think a football thrown to a receiver--the ball follows a perfect, arcing path to its target, and then a defensive player reaches up to tip the ball, sending it into an awkward, end-over-end spin out of bounds. Or think of what might happen to a planet should another object knock it from its orbit.
I'm out of my orbit. I'm the football tumbling out of bounds. Sure, I have plenty of meaning in my life--right now my boys, especially Owen and Max, need me to be emotionally present. Elliot's needs are fairly simple (although ever-present). Fortunately, he's going to day care during the summer to keep a consistent schedule. The other guys really need me right now.
And that is good--it is as it should be.
But my life, my meaning, is more than father to those boys. I've spent so long as Aimee's friend, lover, partner, and yes, caretaker, that I have to reexamine myself. And by "have to" I mean I have no choice. The change has come, regardless of my wishes, and here I am.
So this year's existential angst (a little more accurate than crisis) brings a good measure of "who am I, now?" with an eye toward the future and "what will my life be like a year from now?"
Baby steps, Aaron. Baby steps.