The words loss, bereavement and grief lead us to look for tangible reasons and explanations for why we feel the way we do. A relationship breakdown, a job loss or the death of a loved one are all life events which, sadly, many of us will experience at some point. What happens to our sense of self and our identity when we experience loss is something we often don’t consciously acknowledge or explore, but our identity is the core of who we are and loss changes this.
When loss happens we may question, challenge or change aspects of our identity such as our faith, our status, who we relate to. We may lose our sense of meaning and purpose. Something changes externally which is so profound to us that it can shake up and change our very sense of self.
We can call into question our faith, or we may align more closely with spirituality. Who we connect with may change or we may need to look outwards to find others to connect with. If we lose our employment we may also lose our financial status and identity, changing our way of living. A sudden diagnosis may throw us into existential chaos as we try to make sense of the time we have left and how we respond to our acute awareness of our finite time left on this planet. It feels understandable that these events can cast questions over our meaning and purpose and who we now are.
Often when we have felt loss the desire is to feel like our old selves, to feel like we did before the loss happened or to recreate that world for ourselves. We want to feel safe and reassured. A big part of working with grief is the acknowledgement that loss changes us, and who we were before was in the past. Loss has happened and we have changed, and are still changing. And this is okay.
Our identity shifts and changes over time, we are fluid beings and are constantly dealing with new experiences. Loss is a significant change for us, and can cast us into unknown territory, but with time and compassion towards our changing self we can reconfigure and accept a new way of being in what may feel like a different life.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”Elisabeth Kubler-Ross