I am often asked by grieving people for my advice about “who am I now” after my loss? If my child died am I a father? If my husband died am I a wife? If my sibling died am I still a sister or brother?
The loss of our identity in grief is certainly one of the collateral losses many experience. Recently, I spoke with a woman in Ohio who had been the sole caregiver for her son for 19 years prior to his death. She spoke of feeling lost. Her social network, daily routine, ability to participate in events and literally every aspect of her life had revolved around her special needs son. Suddenly, this woman found herself in a world she described as “filled with complete emptiness.” In her case, she felt like she was starting from the very beginning when it came to finding life after loss.
Grief work is really life work. As with most things I write about regarding resiliency and processing grief, I try to keep it very simple. In my opinion it takes A.C.T.I.O.N. to find out who we are now.
(A)ssess the damage – It often takes time sitting with our grief to understand and assess the entirety of our loss and the secondary losses associated with it. Grief is an assault to our body, heart, mind and soul. It affects us physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually. The death of someone we love can present far reaching and long-term changes to our family dynamics, self-worth, financial situation, living situation, goals and relationships. Before we can form a strategy of support and create a plan, we must come to terms and fully acknowledge the magnitude of our loss … the damage must be assessed before it can be addressed.
(C)hallenge Grief – The grief journey is filled with countless decisions we make. Once we have fully assessed the magnitude of our loss we will at some point be faced with making a conscious decision; am I choosing to survive? The commitment to survive motivates us to educate ourselves about the grieving process and to seek out the necessary support we will need to walk this journey. Armed with knowledge and surrounded by support we are equipped to take a stand and stare grief in the face letting it know it will not win.
(T)ake a Chance – Grief has changed the trajectory of our lives. We know that our old life won’t return, but we are unsure who we will be as we season in our grief. This part of the journey is when we can try things we have never done. Form new friendships, express yourself creatively through writing or art, travel, seek what you are passionate about. In my case, the death of Ashley resulted in me no longer fearing my own death. By not fearing death, I also no longer feared living. The worst that could happen already happened, so why not take a chance on living the life we want?
(I)nvest in the Journey – Helping others in honor of those we love who have died is the best paying investment I have come across for grievers. Our healing and new life are dependent on being able to continue to fully express our love, it did not die the day they died. There is no better way to continue to express the love than by reaching out to help others. Start a foundation, donate to causes, advocate, practice rituals that keep you connected to the love.
(O)pen yourself to Change – Finding out who we are now comes when we are open to the changes in priorities most of us experience. Things that used to matter a great deal in our past life may seem very trivial to us now. Things we never thought we would find interest in now may seem exciting. When I see people moving steadily in their grief, I see people who rolled with the changing landscape of their new life and acted on a new set of priorities, values and interests. Grief is taking us somewhere. It requires an open mind and an open heart to find out where it will lead.
(N)ever let Go – You will never hear me say, “I had a daughter and her name was Ashley.” I have a daughter and her name is Ashley. Who am I now? I am Ashley’s daddy and I will continue to be until the day I die. Finding out who we are now is knowing that wherever grief takes us, wherever we end up, our love for those we grieve will be right there with us. Our new life can allow us to let go of the pain as we are able without letting go of one ounce of the love. When we are steadfast in knowing that the love never dies, it frees us to carry that love proudly and loudly. Love lives on for a lifetime, who I am now is a man continuing a legacy for Ashley, and in doing so I am finding great purpose and deep meaning … it took time, tears and ACTION, but all of the hard work have helped me understand exactly who I am now.
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