I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore: grief and loss of identity

Identity is a funny thing.  The way we think of ourselves, how we define ourselves, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, all of that comes together to create our identity.  And yet we don’t always have a conscious awareness of our identity or even a loss of identity.  It often exists in the background, like the soundtrack of a film.  We aren’t consciously aware of it until something changes.  Seriously, have you ever watched familiar movie clips without the soundtrack?  It’s weird.

Okay, back to identity. When we experience a loss we are often focused on the tangible “things” we lose – the person, the house, the job, the relationship, etc.  That’s, of course, a huge part of grief.  But there is this other part of grief that we are often less aware of it.  It is the secondary losses that happen like dominoes falling, creating far more to cope with than just the primary loss.  We talk about these secondary losses a lot around here and often quickly list them off, throwing in “loss of identity” without saying much more.  Today we are going to change that because there is a lot to say and to think about when it comes to loss of identity in grief.  It shapes so much of how we exist in the world and research has shown that the lack of “self-clarity” that comes in grief as a result of loss of identity is correlated with higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress.  We’re going to talk about different types of identity, how we can experience identity changes or losses, and what to do about it.  Spoiler alert: there are no easy answers.

Relational Identity

This is one that quickly comes to mind in grief.  It is the piece of my identity that is based on my relationship with another person.  So, perhaps I am a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a mother, and on and on.  When we lose someone, we often feel we have lost this relational sense of self.  We find ourselves asking questions like, who am I if not a wife?

Relational identities change, even with the same person.  For instance, when someone becomes ill your role might shift from being a spouse or a child to a caregiver.  There are still components of your original role, but you may find that shifting as you take on more and more responsibilities as a caregiver.  When a person dies, caregivers often feel their sense of purpose is less clear.  When your relational identity becomes so defined by caring for another person, when that person is gone it can be hard to regain a sense of self.

Additionally, grief can ‘re-write your address book’. Friends shift, a distance may arise between friends or family of the person who died.  This can lead to another shift in relational identity, feeling a loss of community and connection to loved ones who are still living.

Professional identity

Phrases like “I am a teacher” or “I am a carpenter” or “I am a doctor” make clear that we often consider our profession as a huge part of who we are.   We have knowledge, skills, and expertise related to our jobs.  Much of our time is defined by our jobs.  We often have a community through our jobs.  When we retire, lose or leave a job, even if it is by choice, there is often a loss of our professional identity that can have a profound impact on our sense of self.  If I have been a teacher for 40 years, it is an adjustment to conceptualize who I am and what gives my days structure and purpose if I am no longer a teacher.  Sometimes a job loss is the primary loss, but sometimes it is a result of needing to leave the workforce to care for a sick loved one or to relocate after a death.  As you can imagine, this can result in multiple identity losses stacking up on one another.

Spiritual identity

Whether a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, a Buddhist, or just someone who identifies as “spiritual” but not religious, we often have a spiritual identity that can grow, shift, shake, and disappear over a lifetime. This can be because of a death or just at different moments in life.  After a loss we hear many people describe everything from a crisis of faith to an increased sense of spirituality.   When it is the former, we often hear people describe a sense that they have lost something that felt fundamental to who they were and hence lost a bit of their footing.  Also with the sense of self as a spiritual person, there is often a sense of community that comes with a religious community that may also be lost, leaving people feeling both the loss their spiritual identity and distanced or isolated from their spiritual community.

Financial Identity

Though we often don’t think of finances as part of our identity, our ability to provide for ourselves and our family financially is often an important component of our sense of self.  Whether it is a constant state of financial struggle or pride in strong financial independence, we often have an expectation about what our financial identity is and should be.  Illnesses and deaths can have a deep impact on financial identity.  From overwhelming healthcare costs to leaving a job to become a caregiver, to a dual income household becoming single income, death can rattle our sense of financial security and independence and create a financial loss of identity.  On the other end of the spectrum, life insurance or inheritance after a death can improve financial security and, though this may sound like exclusively a good change to financial identity, for some people it leads to feelings of guilt after a death.

Physical Identity

Much like financial identity is often correlated with our ability to provide for ourselves and our families, physical identity often defines how we are capable of physically existing in the world.  In basic ways, like having the luxury to work any type of job, play with children, go for a walk or to the gym, and move free from pain, our physical self is fundamental to much our daily life.  For some, the physical is even more significant – people who identify as athletes or who use a lot of physical movement in their work are often even more deeply connected to their physical selves.  An illness, injury, and even aging can take a serious toll on the physical self, leading people a physical loss of identity that can sometimes be accompanied by a loss of self-worth. This is something we may struggle with ourselves or watch a loved one struggle with as an illness progresses.

Outlook

Though this can be harder to label, our outlook or perspective on the world can be deeply connected to our identity and it can also be shaken by a trauma or loss.  Whether it is the belief that the world is a fair and just place, a general optimistic perspective, being a ‘happy person, or a feeling that the world is predictable or safe, our lens through which we see the world has a deep impact on our identity.  A significant death or trauma can shake these assumptive beliefs about the world, leaving people sometimes feeling more negative, jaded, pessimistic, or unable to engage with other people or activities the way they used to.  This can result in an identity change or loss that feels difficult to reconcile.

Uhhhhh, okay . . . so I have definitely experienced a loss of identity. Now what?

We’ve thrown a ton of information about grief and loss of identity your way.  If you’re thinking “yes, this is me!” you may also be thinking “what do I do about it??”.   There is no easy answer, but the first thing to keep in mind is your identity will never be what it was before the loss.  Like so many things in grief, trying to go back to how things were before the loss just isn’t possible.  Part of regaining a sense of self after the loss is accepting that identity is going to be different than it was before.

From there it is important to remember that different doesn’t mean bad.  As human beings, we often don’t like change.  We have ideas about how life is supposed to look and who we are supposed to be.  When life doesn’t pan out that way, it can be easy to assume that no alternative will ever allow us to have a sense of well-being.  Though there will always be a deep sense of grief around the people and things in life that we lose, this does not mean there will not be other things that bring a sense of purpose, joy, and contentment and that will slowly become part of your identity.

Remember, you can bring the past into the present.  The person you lost, the person you were, those are all things that will still be a part of you as you go forward.  The myth of “letting go” has left many grievers feeling like the healthy way to grieve is to shut the door to the past.  As we have said time and time and time again, a continued connection to loved ones, as well as a continued connection to the person we used to be, can be a very healthy part of moving forward.

Finally, take some time to reflect on your identity.  Whether it is talking with a friend, a counselor, writing, art, or some other form of expression, consider how your identity has shifted.  Make an effort to focus not just on the losses, but also on gains.  This may be the new relationships that have formed, positive changes in perspective, new skills or growth that have come from changes in professional or physical identity, etc.  Though it is easy to focus on the loss of self, rebuilding self-identity can slowly come through an awareness of changes in the self.  This means bringing pieces along, acknowledging pieces that will never be the same, and establishing new pieces of the self that are built on things that came before.

Like I said, no easy answers.  But if you relate we would love to hear about your experience with loss of identity and any tips for coping.  Leave a comment!

April 11, 2019

67 responses on "I Don't Know Who I Am Anymore: grief and loss of identity"

  1. My boyfriend of 8 years died unexpectedly almost 2 weeks ago. I feel an unbearable sadness. I lay in bed for most of the day. I cry and the anger that builds up inside me is so painful. I want him back and I pray that he will come back even though I know it will never happen. I have never been religious so now I’m afraid. I want to believe I will see him again. He died of an overdose so I always had a fear of this happening when we were together. He was such a special wonderful man who died at 35. He understood me and made me laugh. I miss everything about him. I don’t want to live anymore but I still fear dying. My bestfriend the love of my life has moved on without me. I lay in bed wishing he was still there to hold me.

  2. Thank you for the article on grief. It made me realize how many things we do grieve for, and maybe aren’t aware of why we have those feelings. Life seems like it’s always a series of losses of one sort or another.
    I had a lot of major life losses in a short amount of time. My divorce just finalized months ago but was dragged on by my abusive Ex for almost 3 years. Divorce is a death with no body and a strange thing to grieve over. Along with the marriage, hopes, dreams, his family and friends who no longer speak to me, we lost our dog of 16 years, my brother’s wife of 40 years, and I just retired, which means I’ve lost my career , (my 2nd one) of 16 years. Lots of grieving in multiply layers. It’ s been a rollercoaster ride.
    Sometimes I feel like a deer in the headlights, stunned at all the changes I’ve gone through. I feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime in a matter of 3 years. I have been in therapy for the last 1 1/2yr, which has saved my life. I read people don’t think therapy will bring back their loved ones, no it won’t , but what it will do is bring you back. No you will never get over it, through it, but you will learn how to deal with the pain of it.
    When my sister in law passed away at 66 yrs old, I realized we must live our lives to the fullest, with the most joy, and happiness so that we may honor those that can no longer do that. And those that have passed, as my parents, and most of my family have would not want us to suffer, be unhappy, unfulfilled and what would be the point of that.
    I am so sorry for those of you who feel so badly, and don’t want to die but no longer want to live. That’s a most difficult place to be in. I would tell you to get help, it doesn’t do you any good to sit with such misery with no where to take that.
    I hope you will consider what I’ve said , and please know, this journey I’m on has been the hardest of my life, but truly the biggest lessons of my life. There is always hope, and always a choice. I wish you all the best to heal from your losses.
    My heart goes out to you all who have taken the time to write in this post.

  3. I have experienced the more traditional loses starting in 2004 (mother, companion, stepmother, father). I had only been living with my companion, not my folks). My dog who died recently was always there in my boat Colleen (I love your post). When she died I felt my boat sank. I felt I was a bad captain by running my dog’s & my boat carelessly into rough waters. I did this by postponing her dental work until my dog ran into problems. The boat started to sink & l failed at bailing it out competently too.

    My new identities feel like failure, failure & failure. My world feels completely void of other identities. I am adrift at sea. No land is anywhere in sight. Thank you for throwing me a life raft with article all the posts.

  4. Every story here is sad beyond definition. My wife of 24 years died within six weeks of a surprise “Stage 4” diagnosis in November 2018
    As others here have said it is hard to continue the journey with an identity, a purpose and goals.
    Our plans for retirement (she was 58, I was 53 and now 54) and our plans for life supporting our adult daughters and just enjoying happy times have been swept away.
    My identity is gone and I don’t have the energy to forge a new one or the desire to build a “new story” with someone else.
    I’m lonely. I don’t know who I am. I grieve. I work.
    For all of you that have your own tragedy and some of the saddest stories I have read please know I feel for each of you.
    There isn’t a way to send communal support.
    But if you are reading this just know that you are not alone. It made me feel better to read the stories. It’s not helping me rebuild an identity but it’s good to know others understand what you experience.

  5. Over two years ago, I lost my very best friend. The only 100% trustworthy being in my life. The fact that he had 4 legs and fur doesn’t change what he meant to me, especially given the fact that I was raised in an extremely emotionally neglectful family. Since his loss, I’ve lost my spark, my sense of joy. I feel numb all the time. My family, in their typical neglectful manner, pushed me even further away when I didn’t “snap out of it” within one week after he died, just before Christmas. And so, I’ve lost my family, empty and superficial as they were though I continue with some obligatory interactions for my mother’s sake. Every day is hard. Pretending everything is fine is tough. I do not see my future clearly. I just continue forward in a fog. I do some volunteering. Take an online class… If there are any others out there who have lost an animal friend who was everything, please know that you’re not alone. The suffering is every bit as excruciating as losing a beloved human — worse in some ways because so many people just don’t understand.

    • Oh I’m so sorry you lost your best friend. My dog is my soulmate and best friend too and she is my life so I really know how you’re feeling. Have you thought about getting another dog? Never to replace but to offer love to another dog that would offer a different personality and relationship with you. Go to a shelter and give another dog the love that you have. My thoughts and understanding from another soul who understands what you’re going through Xx

  6. We truly need to learn our true self-identity and its a mindset which needs to be developed.

  7. I am a loss as to what to do next, I feel so alone and sometimes wish I had died with him, I was married to my Husband for 50 years and for the last 4 years his caregiver. Ken fell in our home and after a month in the hospital and another in a nursing home he was sent back home for me to care for him, He couldn’t talk, walk or feed himself had a G-tube and I was using a hoyer lift to get him out of bed into a wheelchair, I had to teach him how to talk , brush his teeth and how to hold a spoon to feed himself again. This was 24 hour care without a break. I often prayed that he would pass and set me free. I know that isn’t something I should say but it is honest. I always thought you have a deep down fighting spirit within you. While at the nursing home I saw many people that had that fight and willing to do whatever they needed to get better or as close to it as they could. I watched as Ken was asked to raise his arm’s to catch a ball and the ball just bounced off onto the floor. I knew there wasn’t much if any at all fight within him. Now 4 year’s later he was put on Hospice and passed away on Feb 14th this year. I miss him so much and how busy I was all the time and never felt like I had enough hours in a day to get everything done. It went from having a daily routine to so many hours in a day to do nothing. I felt sad and relief after he passed thinking I was free to do something for myself now. I have not worked in 5 year’s and have gone on a few interviews and offered a job by each one. I find I can’t commit to anything because I feel so lost at this time. I don’t know where I fit in anymore. My children are grown and have lives of their own, another day passes and I sit here without any direction.

    • “Grief is the price we pay for love,” according to Queen Elizabeth, Diane.

      The quote came to mind when I read of your grief, but not the orator. So I searched online and found it to be her … or not. Google would have me believe that it belongs to one Dr CM Parkes (an acquaintance of the Queen) and his book on bereavement.

      (Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life.)
      “The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love:it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”

      Perhaps, in time, you will support others in their own joys and losses; for yours is a rare experience. Or perhaps you will not be able to do so, I don’t know. I say this because I can only imagine you must have known a great joy.

      Hoping the joy and grief will come to coexist for you, in time.

    • I too feel like I have lost my identity/ myself with the loss of my husband. (I am beyond grateful to have found your website) I have just been existing, breathing in/out hoping the grief would stop. We are coming up on the 1st year on July 30th. After 6 years of non stop treatment, all the cliches of ‘just the shell of the person’ that remained were ringing so true for me. Fast forward to now, and I can’t think straight. I can’t tell if this is just ‘the new normal’ or depression. My adult daughter says it is ’emotional cutting’ to reminisce and cry. I didn’t think a human being could cry so much. I feel so robbed of our ‘golden years’ together. I didn’t realize just how intertwined our lives had actually become, we had just completed 35 yrs together. There was nothing we didn’t do together. There remains just this blinding blizzard of snow that blankets my thoughts and life.
      I pray for all of us that are grieving, that things get better in as quick a time as our hearts allow.

  8. loss of identity too me reminds me of a long past event were the connection from spirit thus nature from the physical being , when a man who threw such heart break and grief loss , burred his true self deep deep within the heart were he couldn’t reach it ! the quest of the true holy grail ! however one knows nothing so one cant even say …

  9. Every autumn, grief wakes in me as I do in morning.

    I have lost friends and family in the regular and expected ways – in accordance with ‘the natural way of things’ – yet nothing much beyond and so I consider myself lucky. It is in this Being Lucky That I cannot help but feel guilty – as if I haven’t earned my grief: because mine is about me alone, is selfish, and so adds layers guilt.

    I sacrificed my identity for my family – my most basic dream for their basic needs and security.

    Every autumn I mourn. My mood decreasing with melatonin, no doubt – but also because at this time of year, my pace of work eases. Almost retiring for a month, I pause in the moment to dream possibilities only to find them foregone to my family’s better good. So I exercise demonically, so as not to dream until sowing spring’s frenzy.

    Come spring, I have no thoughts of autumn – knowing in my heart It will wake, just as my heart then will break. Again. Hoping – if I allow the thought in – for It to wrench a little less.

    Eleven years of winter mending.
    Grief is counting,
    Stitches.

  10. I have just read your article and it explains a lot of what I’ve been struggling with. Especially since the loss of my brother – my only sibling – 8 months ago. I am like a quarter of the person I was before he died. It was the same after the loss of my mother and my husband. I’ve never been able to explain it to my therapist how I feel. But it is like there are big pieces missing of myself. I have taken up painting in a small group and I think this might be starting to give me a new sense of self and purpose. I always wanted to be who I used to be and I grieved for that lost self but now I realise I have to build a newer sense of me. Thank you. It has been so enlightening to finally read about this

    • I also lost my only sibling unexpectedly 9 months ago. She was not only my sister, but my best friend. We had been through so much together, including the death of our mom when we were young (I was 15, she was 20), a difficult period of adjustment after her death, as our dad just lost himself for awhile. We survived, but held on to each other tight. We moved in together, and stayed very close to each other through the peaks and valleys of life. I am completely lost without her. Seeing a therapist, however, has helped. I realize that I must discover who I am now…what is my new identity since her loss. I pray that you are able to find yourself in your journey of grief. May we both find that peace.

  11. I RECENTLY HAD TO CLOSE A SMALL GIFT SHOP i OWNED. i SOLD HANDCRAFTED GIFTS MADE BY LOCAL ARTISTS. i HAD IT FOR 8 YEARS AND IT WAS MY DREAM COME TRUE. i LOVED MY STORE, i LOVED HELPING CUSTOMERS AND WORKING WITH THE ARTISTS. i CREATED A WONDERFUL ATMOSPHERE. AND YET, IN THE LAST 2 YEARS, THE STORE WASN’T MAKING ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY ME A SALARY. AS SOON AS I REALIZED I WOULD HAVE TO CLOSE MY STORE, I FELL INTO A DEEP DEPRESSION. THE STORE WAS MY IDENTITY. WITHOUT IT, I NO LONGER FEEL LIKE MYSELF. I BECAME SUICIDAL IT WAS THAT BAD. I LIVE ALONE AND HAVE WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS. I’M STRUGGLING TO FIND SOMETHING TO REPLACE MY OLD IDENTITY. IT IS A HORRIBLE WAY TO LIVE, NOT HAVING ANY DESIRES, PASSION, JOY JUST FEELING DEAD INSIDE, BLAH. I CRY A LOT.

    • I sympathize with the loss of your beloved store. I have had a huge shift in identity, too. I think the goal of your store is wonderful, to connect artists and customers. I know there are so many efforts you could make to keep doing this type of work without formally having a store, either with community artists or those from third world countries, on a voluntary basis after your day to day work is done. I hope you put your talents to use. They are valuable! Best wishes.

  12. how to begin…. isn’t that the toughest part of it all. I have read a handful of the comments left and the ideas and emotions within them are all too familiar. I think its fair to say that the world keeps spinning and we keep having to deal with the bulls*t. I suppose I have a hard time ‘accepting’ things that have happened because somewhere in my psyche ideas like ‘everything happens for a reason’ or some things are ‘meant to be’ still exist. The anger generated from the contrast of those two worlds keep me from being able to push forward in an optimistic manner like I did in the past. In fact, I resent the person in the past. That bright eyed person ready to take on anything and do whats needed to be done just doesn’t exist anymore. I actually blame that person for being naive to evils far beyond their perception at that space and time. Which led to the trauma that has incapacitated my ability to do good for self or even allow myself to seek help. My mind is plagued in every interaction, big or small. Who are you? Why are you asking me these questions? What do you want from me? I feel like Brion James’ character in the opening scene of Blade Runner except the interviewer is a prospective employer/friend/significant other. It’s really no way to live. I don’t want to be known as the monster I am now, I wish to be remembered as who I was, so I’ve isolated. I suppose I am here in hopes of stumbling upon something. Hope is a funny thing. Without it you are lost but with it, you just feel like the worlds biggest idiot.

    • I could have written this myself. It’s been about 3 years since the loss of everything I loved about me and my life and I hate the person I’ve become. Though I often feel quite monstrous, logically I know I’m not a monster and I doubt you are either, but I get it. Thank you for posting. It helps ease a bit of the loneliness. I hope for both of us or anyone else who feels this way that something comes along to surprise us (in a good way for a change). Sending some love to you whoever and wherever you are.

  13. I’ve been very upset today but after reading this i feel more aware of what’s been up with me and how I feel thank you

  14. I’m an only child. My dad was diagnosed with cancer in late May 2008 and died 7 weeks later, age 86. I was completely unprepared for how horrifying it would be. Even though I was 51 with a good job and happily married I always knew my dad would have my back; a safety net should something go terribly wrong. Now that safety net was gone.

    My mom gamely kept on, refusing to entertain any notion of moving from the house she loved so much even though she was living in the country, somewhat isolated and I lived 600 miles away. I visited often and talked to her every day. A year and a half later she suffered a major stroke. She required around the clock care. I moved back with her (keeping up with my job by teleworking) and spent the first 3 months setting up the full time (in home) care she needed. Once I was satisfied she had the right people looking after her I went home but came back every 2-4 weeks to visit, check on her (she was unable to speak on the phone) and handle any problems from staffing issues to home repairs. This went on for 17 months. My mom was well cared for and it was my second full time job.

    When my mom died I was TOTALLY unprepared for the COMPLETE and IMMEDIATE loss of identity I experienced. I would not wish my mom’s situation on anyone, but while it was going on I was important, critical to her wellbeing in every sense of the word. I was her caregiver at times. The manager of all that mattered to her. And I was her daughter. And now I felt the loss of all of those roles. I felt like I was completely untethered – freefalling. It was unspeakably frightening and why had I never even heard of this aspect of loss and grief? I had my marriage of course and my job. But I had spent so much time living between my home and my parents’ home that when I was finally back in my “regular” life I felt like much of that life had moved past me. My husband and I have no children so we don’t have any parental roles to occupy us. I’ve adjusted to the new normal, mostly, but as other losses have accrued since then I still find myself struggling with my identity. I inherited my parents’ dog, who was wonderful and we loved her dearly. But she was diagnosed with cancer and required quite a bit of care before she died. I was her caregiver through it all. When she died I was suddenly yanked from that role, simultaneously relieved she was no longer ill, horrified at losing her and no longer vital to another being’s survival. Then I had a huge project at work for several years which came to fruition just over a year ago and when it did I experienced the same loss of identity; I suddenly had free time and not nearly as much to do.

    The other thing I had to learn is that grief accrues. One doesn’t lose someone, get over it and then start back at zero with the next loss. The losses compound. I’m finding the same with the identity struggle although it’s more nuanced.

    Thanks for giving me the space to put down these thoughts. I have no answers but maybe this will help someone else realize they are not alone.

  15. I lost everything the day my partner died suddenly and unexpectedly at only 69.

    My lifelong love, the one person who’s unconditionally love and cared for me.
    Our longed for retirement.
    My motivation, zest for life, optimism,
    stability, security and all reason for living have been taken away from me.
    I don’t want to die but I don’t want to live.

    At 66 I wish I was older so I don’t have so long to go. I wish I could give my life to somebody who would value it as I used to.
    I don’t exist anymore overnight I went from a happy, healthy active person to nothing.
    I have no peace of mind, just regrets and constant questioning.
    Lifelong hobbies, enjoyments have been taken away from me. People I thought we’re friends don’t bother to get in touch .Family are like distant strangers who want to help but usually make me feel worse.

  16. Floundering is a good way to describe it. What i had before is gone, long gone. I stumble thru each day in some sort of half reality.

    I now question every single thing I have ever done/thought leading up to what happened (lost my teenage son in a car accident that could have been prevented). I can be speaking to someone and its like I’m overhead looking down on this person like I’m not even attached to him anymore. Or can be driving down the street and think if i hit the car in front of my its not really real.

    GOD, now that’s a big one. I no longer believe what i believed before. I found out that my vision of GOD wasn’t correct to begin with and now i have to reevaluate a life time of what and what GOD was and wasn’t. I don’t pray for safety anymore (it didn’t work) and now believe “shi! just happens” without GODS ordaining it. If you happen to be in the middle of an intersection and a drunk idiot runs the red light, chances are YOU’RE GOING TO DIE and GOD doesn’t pull you out of the way, I just doesn’t work that way. I used GOD as my safety net wrongly. Again, doesn’t work that way.

    Hoping and Praying are also NOT things i do anymore. The only thing that works is ACTION. Pray/Hope all you want to but without action, its worthless. Again, it didn’t work for me or my family.

    3 years into this and I’m still as confused as the day it happened. Am i suicidal? No not really, I just don’t want to be alive anymore, there is a difference. Counseling??? Now that’s another whole issue. Can counseling bring back my son? NO Can it bring back my future? NO In child loss groups all i saw is unhappy miserable parents who lost children, some of them 15+ years ago or longer. That showed me you NEVER get over/thru a loss of a child (or they wouldn’t still be going there). Still trying but exhausted and tired of it all.

    Each day at a time until i see my son again.

    Joe

    • Hi Joe, I lost my only child on 7/16/2010, age 28 and his dad, my husband age 64 on 11/4/2018…… floundering , isolating , trying to get through another day. I lost my family and surely lost my identity. I live with my brother and his wife and I know I need to take action to find the new me. Hardest thing EVER. I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die. My brother says he is worried that I will not make it, if I do not try to live again. I just thought I would reach out . I am so sorry about your loss . No parent should have to endure such heartbreak .

    • Hi Joe,
      Not sure if you’ll see this because you posted some months ago but I decided to try anyway. My 17 year old son passed away almost two weeks ago. I’m in a haze. But I want you to know that death is a part of living. Sometimes a death is designed by God and sometimes it’s designed by evil. When it’s evil the purpose is to break you. To throw you off course. To shatter your potential. To cast you into a never ending state of darkness. You have to fight against it and not let it win.
      The pain I feel is enormous. I’m lost wondering why any of this matters. Wondering how I can make my life more meaningful. But I know that I have to be as strong as I can be because I cannot let evil win.

  17. Brilliant. Thank you!

    • Our son was murdered by fentanyl Aug. 27 2017 and it was so unexpected and sudden. I can not move on and don’t know that I ever can. Nobody called us when he died, the police screwed the case up so bad, his car and motorcycle were stolen, etc. Nobody calls and I can’t stand being on this earth without him. Everything I try to do I get beat down by a brick wall. He was my first born and it is so hard to give anything of myself because I am so depressed, angry, full of anxiety and all the other crappy feelings. My husband nor youngest son do not talk about him and that doesn’t help. I hear all the talk, talk, talk about the opioid epidemic until I want to scream. All talk and NO ACTION!! I cant find anything out about his death because police won’t respond. It’s just all I can do to even get up each day. Don’t clean, cook, brush hair, nothing.. this is not living. I pray every night for God to take me home but I hope to know who killed my son before I go. It is supposedly the room mate whom my son was kind enough to let move in and what a great thanks right?? Writing is my only release I guess. I don’t know how parents losing their children to this poison get through each day. God help us all. It appears “Authority” doesn’t really care at all. I grieve for my son and all the others dealing with this horrible epidemic.

      • My older brother, my moms first child, died out of the country under confusing circumstances. He was hit by a drunk driver, but we don’t really know what happened even though we went there and did everything we could for justice and closure. It’s 10 years later now. My mom still grieves, but slowly deals with some things, little by little. My mom had a lot of problems before my brother died that she never faced and now she uses her grief over my brothers death to continue not facing herself. Now my younger brother is a meth addict. I’m an addict in recovery and my mom constantly looks at her life of regret and asks what went wrong with her sons. Life is hard for all of us, but she only cares about her own grief. She’s like a child and I am the adult. She has every right to grieve. I don’t know her pain. I have a son w autism and adhd, but he is here and I make sure he knows I love him, but life is still going. We are still here. Mom, please face this grief. Get help, get a support group, take responsibility where you can and accept and forgive. The point of life is to live.

      • I am so sorry to read about your tragedy. God bless you. I am sending you light from my heart to yours and pray you are healed.

  18. This was a really helpful article; thank you. Remembering that the old “me” is still part of me, and finding positive things (as well as the bad) that have been added, helps today. Maybe we’re like moonsnails or other sea creatures with spiraling shells, and the old identities just have new layers added on top. The new layers aren’t all shiny; quite a bit of the accretion is rough and ugly, but the overall effect can still work. (I can’t go as far as “beautiful” today.)

  19. Agree with Kirsty’ this website is indeed a gift and all the fellow grievers who share their grief stories and their brokenness’ helping me not feel alone and abandoned …
    As for me’ – Who am I ‘if not a wife – after 44 years of loving and fun marriage …

    Laura

  20. It is good too know I am not alone.

  21. My dad died 8/2018. I retired my job to help be my daddy’s caregiver along side my two siblings that we never were close. More to the point the siblings always ganged up on me. Narcissistic personalities both of them. The grief shattered through his suffering and not knowing his own pain alone over his last 3 months of life have shattered me. I just took a new job afeto12 yrs with a company I was ready to leave but yet provided structure I was accustomed to that forced my attention to work. Now I feel even more of a loss. No dad who defined I was his daughter, a job that gave me a position and purpose. Both giving me a place. I’m so thankful for Jesus because I know to whom I belong . I hope this helps someone. I would be lost without Jesus.

  22. My son died 15 years ago. He was my only child. He was 17. At the time i was very lucky to have lots of family and friends for support. Just about everyone has disappeared now. My 2 brothers who are older than me have both been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am 50 years old and my long term partner of 7 years has decided we arent compatable anymore and completely moved on with his accountant. I have lost my son, my independence, my drive, my career and the ability to look after myself financially. I had to move away to a rural town where i coukd afford a 1 bedroom unit. Im isolated, lonely, depressed and fearful. I dont have the energy to go on anymore. I always hope i will feel better soon and I’ll be able to work, earn an income and start living again in some way but i fear i just cant find the purpose or passion. I used to be confident, happy, fun loving, easy going, optimistic, courageous etc. im none of those things anymore. I dont even want to or care if i leave the house, shower, eat etc. Im so lost. Thanks for the article. My heart goes out to everyone experiencing loss of a loved one. Its extremely hard.

    • Hi Cindy, Thanks for sharing this as it is good to know others who struggle as well. I lost my son to cancer when he was age 23 years old…that was 8 years ago. Up until then and even during his sickness (over a 5 year period) I had loads of friends checking in and calling me. Like you, I was happy, loved life and all those things. But the minute my son closed his eyes on January 16th, 2010 that was it. Everyone abandoned me, my family, my only sister, my best friends (my mom and dad passed away years ago). I tried and tried calling for general chats, but they never picked up. And then a message would be left on my phone to say they saw I called and were busy and would call me back in a day or two….but the call never came. Now, aged 65 years old I struggle to get up and go to work each day. I took a job as receptionist in an office after my son died. Yes, it pays the bills and gives me a bit extra for the odd holiday by myself and get my hair done etc. It’s just awful…..if I did not have my job I would not be here. I will do it as long as my health continues. Try and get yourself a wee job, even its only in a store a couple of days a week. As someone in Ireland, where I am from originally once said when they lost a loved one…..’ I will stumble around this planet aimlessly until as such time it is for me to leave and meet my loved one again’. I think they speak for all of us. Oh, how much better it would have been for us if everyone had not deserted us. Take care

  23. You mentioned Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or just spiritual, but you left out Judaism. I certainly hope this was not intentional. Regardless, it is insulting to Jews to be omitted from this list.

    • —Susan

      I believe that the implication was that regardless of the specific version of spirituality we happen to practice, we we’re all equally susceptible to losing our sense of spiritual identity. Also left off were Hinduism, Shikhism, Hindu, and hundreds of others. We live in a society that normalizes taking offense to a great number of things quite often. I can personally admit I’ve spent a great portion of my life doing the same. Let go of the ego. Approach each and every situation with as open a mind as possible. If nothing else, what harm could it do? I’m beginning to suspect that the primary thing standing between each of us and some level or variation of happiness is our decision to demand some kind of personal “justice” for each and every time we feel wronged—no matter how arbitrary.

  24. My wife of 37 years marriage and 44 years of love from first sight sweethearts passed away tragically from a shocking diagnosis of stage 4 lung/brain cancer. It nailed us hard and by total shock when we thought all along it was just a bad back issue. From diagnosis to the end it was 2 months. I always prided my self as Mr and Mrs- THAT was my identity- HER HUSBAND and I was HER HUSBAND as well- we were ONE. Now I am a lost soul who has lost his pride and joy-my reason for living and getting up and going to bed every day. I had just retired and she was on back LTD but we had bought our retirement home and straight ahead were the “GOLDEN YEARS” we had so worked so hard to get to. I was 64 and she was 62. Hey what the hell- we were both talking about our 40th and 50th anniversaries- Bring it all on. Lets die of old age together. So after the shock of the diagnosis-then being her caregiver and then the finality of it all- I am left an empty shell. The once smiling with confidence and strength which was only because of my wife is now gone as well. All my ZEST for upcoming life- hey why not another 25 years right? Puts us in our eighties- hey arent people living longer? Hey your family they are all older- look all in their 80s- why shouldnt we expect and plan on the same- full speed ahead- to the GOOD LIFE here we come! Then blam- all gone within an instant. I hardly had enough time to feel the shock of the Dr words- I was numb from that moment on. But now I am NOBODY- yeah a Dad and yeah a granddad- BUT really nothing without grandma by my side. I was just the side act-she was the star of this show! I have no idea how this plays out but I do want to die- I do not have the strength to turn this ship around- why would I want to be so many years removed from the one I love? But as far as who I am? I am a nobody a nothing just going through the motions so as not to totally disappoint my children. I am NO LONGER GARY- GARY died when his love of his life passed on. If I am no longer GARY and fact is no longer Mr& Mrs Gary as well- I no longer exist! Life can easily go on without me.

    • Gary,
      I understand how your heart is full of crushing pain.
      I just lost my soul mate. My husband of 30 years died of occupational cancer.
      I have not only my loss and grief to deal with but also his employer who has made my life hell .
      Your kids and grand kids need you here.
      Please don’t give up.
      I have felt terrible dispare in my lifetime and was once suicidal just prior to meeting my soulmate.
      Had I given up on life I would have not felt the joy and love I was blessed with. As horrible as I felt then if I had thrown it away …. I would have lost my love and my kids.. Our grandkids.. Crushed my parents. There is hope I truly believe as hard as it is right now for me.. My life has purpose and it will be better with time… Make new memories one day at a time please..

    • My husband of 37 years passed in September. I totally get everything you’re saying, Gary. Totally true for me.
      I just feel so lost. I too have kids and grandkids, but feel as if I’m on the periphery. Just keep fighting.

  25. I struggle after 13 years with anxiety and I would say depression. I always had anxiety but it intensified when I got into my 40s. I think my grief comes from going through cancer myself. Stage 3 when I was 30. And while I am grateful to be alive everything I had hoped for or ever wanted changed . And I just don’t think I ever dealt with it. But I find myself in the same place as I was then, 14 years later- trying to still stay in the mold of what we built at that time. It my body and stagnant life are constant reminders. I want to change and yet feel like, why can’t I just be grateful for what I have. Constant struggle. And always feel like I’m grieving. About loss of self, loss of time, loss of friendships bc I find myself isolating. I was a social person, I think I need it- but it feels exhausting to press on.

  26. I am unable even write what I am feeling or not feeling. I used to be able to articulate, talk, laugh smile, communicate . …..now what.

    • I’m at the same place!! My mind is mush and all I know is that I feel like I’m going insane 😢. Please reach out if you’d like, I hate feeling like I’m the only one losing my mind!

  27. Thank you. This website is indeed a gift for those of us who feel ‘lost’ and not found and no longer recognise the version of ourselves that we are today. Having always felt strong and determined and with my life all planned out – my dad’s recent death does leave me feeling like I have lost my anchor. Thank you brave souls for sharing your deepest pain and sadness. I know the place where that comes from – and how brave we all are to share. I am having trouble accepting the ‘lost-ness’ of my dad’s death. Who am I – I am no longer a daughter – yet am always a daughter. Or else I don’t exist. Hmmm I am many things and yet I am nothing (sorry to post-modern for some – but I am feeling that sense of fragmentation right now). Looking, seeking aching for something concrete. Going to get all the medical tests I can to ‘prove’ I am OK – and not dying like dad. But then devastated by the truth that there simply are no certainties in life. The whole human experience is chance, unknowns and a roll of the dice. All any of us can do is to live this day, this moment with passion and meaning. I struggle with this fluidity and shifting nature of things. I want to hold on tight – I want truths made of steel. I want a life of certainties. Oh how funny we are – from the moment we are born we are changing – yet us humans have so much desire for constancy – what funny creatures we are indeed. We go to such huge measures to avoid the pain of change and loss. Thanks again for this website – and to the brave souls who are sharing. I am very grateful.

  28. [email protected]
    Your website, WYG was a real eye opener for me since I had never learned or did not understand how to let myself grieve. I went to seven week grief support workshop in October last fall. I was able to begin to learn how to grieve. My parents both died within one year of each other when I was about forty years old. I am now close to my 70th birthday. My mother never even had a service. It hurt deeply. I had held on to a vision of them only as I saw them suffering
    before they died. During and after the workshop I was able to look at photographs of them when they younger and vibrant.
    I am still so sad because they have not been around as my children have grown up and married. I thank you all for sharing your pain, I immediately felt much compassion and sadness with you. I have recently “found my voice” and begun daily to live my identity. I had lost my voice and identity through dissociation during some severe childhood trauma. So this topic of grieving our loss of identity or self, spoke to me.
    I still suffer from some occasional symptoms of PTSD. Thank you for this forum and website to help people cope with grief.

  29. My husband of 25 years died 16 months ago. We were a May/December couple and the 17 yr. age difference never mattered. I loved being his wife. He was the air I breathed. So many people told me they had never seen a couple like us. We lived for each other. We tried to make each other feel loved every day. We had fun, no matter what we were doing. We did have individual interests, but we just liked being together. Not having him has left me bobbling for air. I get up everyday and go to work, but I feel my life has no meaning. Nothing is fun without him. I am struggling to find my new normal, whatever that is. I have trouble watching life go on all around me. I am sitting still. He is not here. Sometimes I see a picture or hear a phrase, and it still knocks the wind out of me. I am sad. I am mad. It is hard to explain and no one understands that my heart is really broken and my entire world turned inside out. My friends have been very supportive, but not my family and that is another pain in itself, but nothing has ever prepared me for losing my beloved husband.

    • Dear Kathy,
      I lost my husband on July 15, 2017. We were the perfect couple. Both of us had been married before. We told each other every day how much we loved each other, appreciated each other, enjoyed every minute we had together. It was a crooked path that led us to each other. He was only 4 years older (I’m 65 now). We made such wonderful plans and now nothing is the same for me. I still work full time, care for the house we shared, the dogs, the garden, his family everything. I don’t know who I am now. I’m outside looking in. Everyone thought we had been married forever. We were only married 4 years. My husband told me that I had taught him the true meaning of love. He was so very happy and so was I. We planned retirement and now…I’m lucky I put one foot in front of the other let alone planning my future or the next day. Who am I? I just don’t know.

  30. My brother had brain tumours and died when he was 43 but my grief was displaced because he had a wife and 3yo daughter who took all the attention. Three years later my dad died following a brain bleed in his sleep from which he never woke. My youngest son died suddenly and unintentionally 2 years ago aged 24yo, He had an 8mo daughter and he was an awesome dad. I was inconsolable of course but I still had to make sure my oldest son and daughter were okay. My granddaughter’s presence softened the ragged edges of my grief which also helped me maintain a connection with my son. Four months later my older sister died suddenly, leaving two young adult nephews without a mother and neither had any connection with their respective fathers, so while grieving my son I was thrown into emotional carer mode for my nephews. Ten months later my beloved sister in law became ill very quickly with cancer and died a week before her 60th birthday. Four months later her mother (my mother in law) died suddenly. I knew why – she was grieving her daughter. I actually felt happy that they were together again in heaven but I also felt a little jealous because they were all together, kicking up their heels and revelling in spiritual ecstasy that I believe exists when we cross over. My brother, father, son and sister gone, along with two more who I loved as much. That leaves just me and mum, but mum has dementia and doesn’t know anything about anything. I need her now but she’s not there and so I feel orphaned and alone for the first time in my life. It doesn’t help that I’m also the youngest in my family and my sister shouldered a lot of the responsibility where mum was concerned. My work is getting frustrated by my inability to deliver as I used to. I hate my job now and find absolutely no satisfaction in what I do, but I don’t know what else I want to do. I’m 56 so it’s not easy to start a new career and my interests don’t come with a wage. For the first time in my life I feel frightened and very much alone and this is harder to deal with it seems with than the losses themselves. I get angry with my family; why did they leave me? Yet I’m glad that my son is not alone and has family around him too. Finally the mother of my granddaughter has taken up a new relationship and has decided to cast us out and we are longer welcome around our granddaughter, yet after my son died they promised me she would always stay in my life. Another loss…..

  31. “perhaps I am a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a mother”
    Husband, Father, Brother?

    • I notice that grief and loss articles on the internet are skewed towards women who have lost… in particular spouses or soulmates.
      Perhaps this is due to a misplaced impression in some that men should not suffer, or least keep quiet about it?

    • Let me specify that your article touches me very strongly. I am not denigrating your WYG. On the contrary I appreciate it enormously.

      Are the emotions of men Taboo in some way?

  32. Thank you for this excellent article! The comments are enlightening as well. I have lost a family a family member or friend at least once a year for the last ten years but it wasn’t until I lost my son 15 year old son 17 months ago that I got lost. I became an empty shell. A husk of a human. I just didn’t know how to describe it. I think this information will also help me understand what my husband and daughter are feeling. Thank you again.

  33. I appreciate this article but it is so broad. Let me explain; I think that how our identity changes after a loss depends so much on WHO you have lost. I deal mostly with parents of loss and parents and families of suicide loss. I started two FB pages to help others who had been through what I had gone though after our daughter died. When a child dies, it is an occurrence so out of the ordinary in the actual scheme of things that it changes everything, including our identity. We are supposed to die before our children, and when we bury a child, our identity and entire life change forever. If we are not a mother, who are we and what is our purpose? If we are the matriarch of our family and suddenly a grown child dies and our grandchild or grandchildren are no longer such a big part of our life, that sense of loss, shock and confusion is overwhelming. Half of our family is suddenly not around the Thanksgiving table and that hurts–it changes who we are. There is the aspect, as well, that we should have been able to save our child. We have always been the parent, the protector, and now we are nothing–it simply knocks the air out of us. Parents always feel horrendous guilt and responsibility when a child dies. When it’s a case of suicide, the guilt is overwhelming. We no longer see ourselves as the perfect family that we worked so hard to create. Again, we feel like a failure no longer the successful family leader, the very together mother who can do it all, but we see ourselves in a completely different light. It takes years to come to grips with the loss and maybe the diminishing of the guilt.
    As adults, if things go normally, we will lose our parents and we have always known this. Losing a parent is never easy, but it is expected. When an adult child loses that last beloved parent, we often feel a bit “orphaned,” I know that I felt exactly that way–but we have our own family and children to keep us going, and we move forward without a lasting feeling of having been orphaned.
    Then there is the loss of a spouse. You made a very good point when you stated in the article that many women feel that “If I’m no longer a wife, who am I?” I think this feeling of such deep loss, especially if your partner was the love of your life from a young age, I have known women who were so lost–partially because they really didn’t know who they were at all any longer. It doesn’t help that women are usually older, retired and the children are grown, so being a wife was that last big thing left in their life. How frightening! I actually think about it often; how would I handle it if after nearly 50 years, retired with children grown, who would I be at all and how well would I deal with that loss–or would my own life be simply over? Lots to think about.

  34. Death changes everything that one thinks they know of or about. There is no permanence of anything in life. I have realized the rational mind has no place in life’s journeys. But we hang on to rational thoughts to process all the unknowns to have a foundation of sanity to continue on. In my experience of deaths in my personal life, we are constantly balancing thoughts to move on in some direction, to do the daily chores of life. I do not think there is an answer to who we are, or what our identity means and our identity does not shield us from pain, grief or loss. Death leaves us naked to be vulnerable-and sometimes one gets to see a glimpse of oneself without all the exterior walls around us that define our identities. And in time we may get to create another impermanent identity.

  35. This was helpful to me in a different way because I’m experiencing a different kind of grief than that of losing someone through death. We adopted two children five years ago, and our son has attachment issues, developmental challenges, and explosive –sometimes violent–reactions to, well, just about everything. Parenting him has changed our lives. Changed who we are. We are grieving daily for the family life we thought we would have, incorporating seemingly endless therapy sessions, not being able to do family activities that we dreamed of doing, and juggling all of that with parenting his more typical younger half-sister–making sure she doesn’t miss opportunities because of everything we have to do for him. Anyway, we’re grieving. Grieving for a family life we dreamed of, grieving for the people we used to be, grieving over the ugliness in ourselves we’ve seen bubble to the surface in dealing with his issues. Very often I stop and think about how I no longer recognize myself. I’ve become this resentful, angry, exhausted, cynical person. Trying to rediscover the me that was joyful and light and creative and compassionate in the midst of the daily struggle. It feels like the grief will never end.

    • Melissa,
      Thanks for sharing your story – I came to this article as I am also trying to understand what has happened to me since becoming a mother with many unexpected life challenges. I identify with what you shared. I don’t want to miss out on these precious years with my children, yet I am constantly overwhelmed by the demands of parenting with an unhelpful world around me. I grieve….
      I will be praying for you and “walking” with you through this difficult, dark season. At least we are both hoping and searching for better.
      Julie

  36. I felt the biggest loss in identity, after my husband died, when I had to fill out my tax form the next year. We had no children so I couldn’t select Widowed with children but I didn’t consider myself single. I had to come to terms being a widow and now they wanted me to think it was synonymous with not having been married at all just because we didn’t have children. It still makes me sad and angry to think of it.
    Forms, not just tax forms, that ask for marital status should provide widow/widower as an option.

    • I feel exactly the same way you do – I am a widow. I was single when I was 21. My husband of 43 years passed away in Sept 2017.
      We did not have any children and now it is as if he never existed. Our joint bank accounts now are in my name only as well as the checks on the checking account. I am not a divorcee or a single person. I am a widow. I agree there should be additional categories when filing taxes and filling out a revised W4 form. It is difficult enough dealing with the loss of my soulmate and love of my life without having to stress over my new “status”.

  37. It seems this article has really struck home for so many of us coping with multiple losses that have shaken us to the core. Losing the folks in my life first my brother, my mother, our family pet all within a few months left me without the supports that I had relied on without even realizing that they were my rocks.
    Thanks for some guidance in trying to take baby steps to establish new relationships, beliefs and hanging in there until a new identity evolves.

  38. I identify with the other comments . My wife and I were married at age 19 and she passed away 44 years later in bed with me during the early morning. She had been ill, and I had talked to a hospice nurse the day before. What I missed for a few months later was that my wife was my life cheerleader even though during my path through life experiences I was not much more than a mediocre person as measured by my internal ruler. She always had kind words for me, she always felt I was an exceptional person, she would thank me for being in her life. During the dozen years when I was a caretaker, relatives would think I was such a wonderful supporting husband. It sounds selfish to me to say that some of my loss is to my ego where I would make the best of adversity and be someone’s hero. I have accepted that death damages you the same as if running your car into the ditch and you hit your head on the windshield pillar. The car may still run down the road, but it may not steer so straight, be wobbly at normal speeds, and you may not remember where you were headed. I gave up my career about a year before her death. So now I am lost in the wilderness. I took a trip to New Zealand, and the excitement of that helped, but at least once a day I would think about how I was allowed to do that because I didn’t have to take my wife to a doctor at least 3 days a week. So who am I? What am I supposed to do now? I have children and grandchildren that I care for and care for me. I went to one grief counselor’s meeting, but it was painful, and I never returned. I think the most important thing to have at this point is hope that you will have chances to have meaningful positive impact on others. That is what fills the hole in my soul. I want to be a hero again. It sounds selfish to think of what I may get from helping others. I did get a small life insurance amount and I didn’t want to have a damn thing to do with that money, so after I deducted what the funeral cost which wasn’t much, I gave some to the school where my grandchildren attend (my wife was a teacher), I bought pizzas for the staff at a health care facility that treated my wife, I gave some to the church, and then I split the difference between my two children. You can see how I identify with the article. Thanks

  39. Once again, a great article Litsa and Eleanor! Thank you for realistically and objectively discussing this aspect of grief and loss.
    Death changes so many things, and “identity” is a cornerstone or anchor of journey of grief that needs to be discussed.
    After death, it is common the survivor to be “left adrift” in the unrelenting dark storm of death. The anchor which once held them safe in there vessel, is now lost. Their boat broken loose, battered by the storms of loss, their lifeboat overturned and shattered by the storm of death. The unrelenting waves are tossing them to and fro without any sense of direction, purpose or many times, without hope. Their world has been capsized, their boat smashed to pieces, and many times, all thats left is a life preserver, if we are fortunate. Bits and pieces of a a life that was familiar and safe is now laying shattered around us. Sometimes we have life preserver, and there is a rope that someone grabs hold of, and we are pulled towards safety. Once safe aboard another boat, we are left shivering and lost, as we watch the pieces of our lives being swept away by the aftermath of the storm. We are numb and cold, suffering from “hypothermia”. It takes so much to figure out our new life on this new boat, its a whole new voyage heading in a different direction. One of the most difficult aspects to the new journey, is learning who we are, how do we fit, what direction do we go, or don’t go. What new dangers do we need to be aware of and avoid for survival. Who are the other passengers on this new voyage? Many times, they are others who have been through a similar storm and are looking for a port of safety and rest. A place where we can heal, recover, and rebuild. And our identity is one of the most important parts of recovering from the loss we have journeyed through. Who we are now, without reference to the one(s) who gave us reference, purpose, meaning, and direction. It is all new. Figuring out who we are is key to rebuilding our boat and setting sail again on the journey we call life.

    • Beautifully written!! Colleen, You have made me feel that I am not alone in this turbulent sea of grief.
      Thank you so much for letting me see for the first time, that what I am going through is normal.

  40. My experience is with the sudden death of our 20 year old son. He passed away in his sleep on Palm Sunday, March of 2016. He was so full of life the last evening we were together.
    He was going to college, working full time, and was making the arrangements to accomplish his goals. He was an Eagle Scout, a member of his high school state championship football team , and the picture of health. My baby boy…
    I came home that morning and found our son passed away. There is much more to share, however, there are sometimes no words sufficient to describe this and acknowledgement from others doesn’t often come. I just don’t understand…
    Your blog is a great read all around. It has been thought provoking and could benefit folks on both sides of the grid referred to as grief.
    -Thank you

  41. My mom was sick and stayed with us for treatments. Then she died. My father remarried almost immediately. (I am no longer a daughter) My husband got sick and I quit working to be his 24/7 caregiver. Then he died. (I am no longer a wife or a nurse – I can’t go back to that) My kids went off to college – one while he was still sick, the other right after he died. (I am no longer a mother). My church family treated me different when I was a widow so I no longer go there. (I have no church). I would love to say, like the last person to comment, that it has only been 18 months – but, for me, this floundering and not knowing who I am or what to do has been going on for 8 years this March.

    • That is a lot of loss for one person. Is there something/someone in your life right now that can be your anchor? That anchor can be the basis on which to build a new foundation. Your identity can be rebuilt, but it will look very different in this new phase. You can feel sad for all that you lost and happy to find yourself again. There is room for both. I wish you much love and happiness on your journey of discovery.

    • “Floundering” is a word I have used to describe my life path. Someone even mentioned an 18-month rule where for some reason at that point in time we who have had losses are somehow cured of the impact of the death. Really? I can’t wait to graduate from this life-changing event and get my DC –Degree in Confusion or hopefully Degree in Clarity. I am reminded of something I heard that gives me some comfort: “God gives his biggest battles to his strongest soldiers.” Maybe, we should be honored that we were chosen to help send home one of His children. I like to think so. I realize not everyone has the same religious beliefs as I do, but I think we were instrumental in helping them the same as doctors and nurses. Our medicine was just a little different.

  42. Grief is often associated exclusively with loss and this article does a fantastic job of laying out death a catalyst for change which results in grief – not the cause of the grief in and of itself. There are many causes for feeling grief. I think it helps to differentiate depression, which feels infinite, from grief, which is understood as temporary. This differentiation doesn’t solve anything but can at least help rationalize this state as impermanent and less grim. Great article. Thank you!

  43. This article certainly speaks to me. My Mom died after I had been her caregiver for 7 years. During that time my husband’s health begin to decline. Today I am struggling with who I am after my husband of 29 years died. He was ill for several years. I retired a year early to be with him. I became his caregiver as he became more and more ill and required more assistance. Our roles changed during that time. Now 18 months later I am floundering with who I am and what to do with myself.

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