Before loss, I was coming towards a pretty secure understanding of my identity. As a person, woman, daughter, partner, sister, friend, colleague. Grief has changed, warped, deconstructed and rebuilt my sense of identity and self. Your identity changes when you’ve had a serious bereavement.
Loss caused me to have a wide range of complex emotions that were difficult to recognise in myself, let alone process and confront. Emotions such as denial, anger, anxiety, sadness, and confusion. The anxiety and sadness which surrounds losing a loved one is expected, and a normal part of grief. However, I didn’t expect to lose myself in it, and I don’t feel that young people who lose a loved one have the necessary support from society to acknowledge and support their grief through the complex steps of the grieving process.
When my Mum died, I became the girl whose Mum died. People stopped talking to me about their parents with me or in front of me, they were anxious to talk about Mother’s Day plans, they stopped asking who I was spending Easter or Christmas with. They stopped talking to me about their family issues in case they’d upset me.
I’d lived 23 years and seven months with my Mum. So many aspects of my life and personality are direct copies of hers. She taught me to read, to apply lipstick, and to cook. I find myself singing along to her favourite songs and adopting the silly little dance moves I watched her do around the house when she wasn’t aware I was looking. I tap my fingers on my steering wheel the same way that she did, and I speak to my cat with the same lovey baby voice that she used. I argue like she did, I use affectionate names for people like she did, I wear perfumes that she wore. When she died, I lost my best friend, my guiding light, my teacher, my Mum. With her, a part of me went as well.
There’s a challenge to find your identity that will help heal from loss and accomplish a new developed sense of self.
13 months after my Mum died, my Nan passed away and I lost the last remnant of my “parental” figures. It was overwhelming and I lost myself in grief. I went to counselling, read books, listened to podcasts. I wanted to find someone to connect with and relate to without disrupting any of my current relationships. When I found the online grief community, I started to feel a change and a process of acceptance within myself and from the community. I soon felt like I belonged again.
Those who wish to preserve the memory of their loved one do so by creating through loss. For example, one might honour their loved one by creating art, writing, gardening, or another meaningful tribute. Tributes can allow a griever to maintain a connection with the lost loved one as they continue with their healing. If shared, those meaningful tributes often have the potential to help others after the loss of their loved one.
That potential can improve grief support in the community, it can find that sense of identity and purpose. I have found that sharing and supporting is becoming more common with young people (16-35) who have had a significant bereavement in their lives. I have connected with and learned from people from all walks of life who share grief. People who have lost children, siblings, parents, friends, grandparents and other extended family, or become widowed. It has been amazing to connect and empathise with the grief community online, especially when I felt I could not connect with some of my friends and family about this because they’d not been through loss.
The stages of grief are tricky to navigate yourself through. It is human nature to wish to be connected with others, and when you’re not able to connect to others about your trauma, you can start to feel lost. There’s so many amazing resources, accounts, advocates, and friends to be found within the online grief community. Hopefully they can help you find yourself and your place too.
This is the post that I wrote for The Grief Girl’s blog. I’ve recycled it because I’m moving house this week, so I’ve scheduled this to go live to give myself a bit of time to settle in before I sit down to write anything else.