You have probably heard that grief is a process. It is one where we eventually accept our loss and find ways to move forward. When someone close to us dies it is like part of us dies with that person. After the death of a spouse or someone close, you may find yourself operating in a new environment as part of “you” is missing. Part of our identity comes from our relationships. You may be a wife, mother, sister, aunt, or best friend. Part of who you are is connected with the other person. When someone we love dies the way we see ourselves can also change.
Our sense of identity comes from our relationships with others. You may discover that belonging is impacted by your experiences and environment. Finding your identity after the death of a loved one can often be a struggle. You might be asking, Who am I? Where do I belong? or Where do I fit in?
Sometimes we have a sense that we have changed or even lost our identity when someone close to us dies. You may be trying to figure out how you now fit into society. On our way to the funeral home, my sister said, “I am now a widow”. Working through this overwhelming change may be the hardest challenge that you will face. As when you love someone it is natural to feel like you have a hole in your heart. The part of your life from that relationship is gone. There is an emptiness in your life that is hard to explain.
There is scientific evidence that explains what happens to the brain when you experience the death of a loved one. Research from O’Connor (2021) was conducted to understand what occurs in our brains when part of “we” is no longer who you are. She found that our brain must relearn that it is not part of “we” any longer. “When people say "I feel like I've lost part of myself," that is for a good reason. The brain also feels that way, as it were, and codes the "we" as much as the "you" and the "I" (O’Connor, 2021 para 6). Knowing that this is natural and a part of the grieving process helps in understanding why you feel the way you do. Using this knowledge to help you move forward can be valuable. You don’t want to dwell on your grief but find ways to help you manage your grief.
Grief can cause us to feel lost, confused, or in a fog of grief. This is the brain’s attempt to disassociate itself from emotional pain. You might not be able to think clearly or find yourself isolated from others. This feeling of being lost or finding yourself in a fog of grief will pass. To help yourself move forward you need to discover what works for you. We are all individuals so what works for one person may not work for the other. You might find that a mentor is helpful or a support group or that journaling is an effective way to express your feelings. I have a close friend who recently lost her husband. She found other widows in her neighborhood and started a small group that meets weekly. What is important is to seek out ways that work for you.
Change can be scary as it brings uncertainty and can turn your world upside down. The most profound change that you could ever experience happens with the death of someone you love. Now you must determine how you respond to the change. It may change how or where you live or even change your direction or your goals in life. A true fact is that the person who died will always be a part of your cherished memories. They will always be missed but the intensity of the loss will lessen over time.
Grieving will allow you to gradually accept what you have lost and adjust to your new situation. It will be a challenge to accept where and who you are today. You should be patient with yourself giving yourself time to heal. While at the same time, focusing on self-care honoring your authentic feelings.
Kwong, E. & O’Connor M.F. (Host) (2021, November 8). What Happens in the Brain When We Grieve) [Audio podcast episode] Short Wave. NPR. Retrieve from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/12/20/1056741090/grief-loss-holiday-brain-healing