We often find that much of our identity comes from our relationship with others. Losing someone is often like losing a piece of ourselves, a limb perhaps. The closer we were to the person we lose the more of our self we need to redefine. How does a woman who calls herself a wife and mother for 25 years cope with losing her family in a car crash? How does a man cope with the death of the “love of his life” whom he was married to for 52 years?
We do not realise how much our lives are shaped by others until they are gone, leaving a residue of emptiness, hopelessness and despair. One of the first things to accept is that redefining your life is a process that involves soul searching, courage and faith and that it takes time. It’s not necessarily a case of totally letting go of who you were for you will always know what it is to be wife and mother or husband and provider or however else you may have defined yourself in your relationship and you will always relive the thoughts and actions that have shaped how you’ve seen yourself until now in your mind over and over again. It’s about being able to adapt when the question “Now what?” arises. Destiny has chosen it’s own course and has ignored your plans. There is no wrong or right path to follow. For now, focus on what you do know about yourself and let that resonate with you for a while until you get your bearings.
In his book “Loss”, John Bowlby writes:
“Because it is necessary to discard old patterns of thinking, feeling and acting before new ones can be fashioned, it is almost inevitable that a bereaved person should at times despair that anything can be salvaged and, as a result, fall into depression and apathy. Nevertheless, if all goes well this phase may soon begin to alternate with a phase where the bereaved starts to examine the new situation and to consider ways of meeting it. This redefinition of self and situation is as painful as it is crucial, if only because it means relinquishing all hope that the lost person can be recovered and the old situation re-established. Yet until redefinition is achieved no plans for the future can be made.”
Each day will bring it’s own set of challenges. Take one step at at a time, it isn’t going to happen overnight. Redefining who you are can take many months and for many people it can take a lifetime. In time, you might find yourself engaging in a memory or thought that you enjoy. It may only be a fleeting moment of ‘peace’ but this becomes your first brick in rebuilding your shaky foundation. Notice what you like and dislike. Try out a new interest perhaps. Counselling can help you to find the courage within if life just seems too overwhelming.
It may seem impossible at first, but step by step as you slowly start to re-build your life and re-visit memories with a mixture of both sadness and joy, you may wake up one day to find you are looking forward to what the day might bring instead of dreading it.