Those who haven’t lost someone close to them might find it melodramatic when you say you feel like a part of you died with your loved one—but it’s not an exaggeration. When a loved one dies, we lose part of our identity, as a husband or wife, as a son or daughter or as a brother or sister.
The loss of identity is a major part of the grief process. It can leave people feeling unmoored, alienated from their previous life and from their peers.
Loss also changes you. You might have people comment that you’re “not the same” as you were before—and they’re probably right. You might not laugh as much, or you might find yourself tearing up constantly. But the changes to “who you are” aren’t always negative. You might also find yourself taking more professional risks, becoming more assertive or making other changes that you wouldn’t have done before your loved one died.
As you work on rebuilding after loss, you’ll have to figure out who you are, now that your loved one is gone.
Finding a New Identity
Even though you may have lost your identity as a spouse, child or sibling, you’ve also gained a new identity—as a widow(er), as a single parent, or as a person who’s lost their parent, sibling or other loved one. The experience of loss will become an important part of your new identity. Not every identity we have is one that we choose—but the identities we carry still contribute to our sense of self and who we are in the world.
Embracing the Opportunities
The loss of our previous self and our previous life is also a radical opportunity to re-evaluate not only who we are now, but who we want to be. Rebuilding your life after loss gives you an opportunity to consciously choose who you want to be as you move forward. This opportunity is one that most people would rather not have, but it’s an opportunity nonetheless. Losing a loved one can open space in your life—and jolt you out of your routine—in a way that allows you to move forward in a more deliberate way than you otherwise would have.
Finding a New ‘Me’
There will be some parts of the new you that you don’t get to choose and might not particularly like—being a single parent, for example. Even if you don’t like it, even the things we don’t like are part of our new self. However, you don’t have to let them define you any more than you should let your loved one’s death dominate your life. Honoring our deceased loved ones is about building a new self that incorporates our love for them while acknowledging that we’re different now, that their love and their death has changed everything about how we experience the world.
Working with a professional counselor can help you untangle the identities that you’ve lost and the new ones you’ve gained. I can help you put a name to the grief you feel when you think about losing not just your loved one, but also the person you used to be. I can also help you make peace with your new self and find ways to work towards being the person that you want to be.
Losing someone we love can destroy our sense of self. That sense of self can be rebuilt. It will be different, but who you are post-loss doesn’t have to be inferior to who you were before.
Photo credit: Pixabay, Seaq68