Grief and the Loss of Identity

I don’t feel disempowered as a women, perhaps because I seldom define myself by gender, religion, nationality, age, or any other consideration. I am simply . . . a being in flux. I have felt powerless at times, but not because of being a woman. The powerlessness came from being in situations greater than my abilities to cope. Sometimes I developed the necessary abilities, such as when I decided to be a writer, other times I simply endured, such as when grief slammed into me after the death of my life mate/soul mate. Either way, I managed to move beyond the powerlessness and regain my equilibrium.

This is not the way things always were, of course. When I was very young, many limitations were imposed on me because I was “just a girl.” (How I hated those words!) Luckily, the early limitations were offset by my experiences at the all-girl high school I attended. In a school where everyone is female, there is no gender bias — all activities are done by and all offices, honors, and awards are won by young women.

warriorIt’s no wonder then, that when I fell in love, it was with an unbiased man. For thirty-four years, we lived in gender harmony. We played no roles, set no rules, followed no conventions. Never once in all those years did he tell me I couldn’t do something. Never once did I refuse to let him do something he wanted. Never once did he make me do a chore. Never once did I remind him of a task he promised to do. If one of us saw a job that needed to be done, we simply did it. Usually, though, we worked together. Some of my fondest memories are of us fixing meals together — he washing vegetables for a salad, me cutting them up. He reading seasonings off a recipe card, me tossing the herbs into the pot. (Or vice versa. What made it especially rewarding is that we’d created those recipes together.)

During the last few years of his life, I did many things by myself in preparation for the time when I would be alone. I took long solitary ambles, went on trips, learned to use a computer and the internet. This became our life — he dying, me struggling to live.

Somehow I thought this would always be our life, but then he died, and “our” life ended.

My grief was so profound I felt as if part of me had been amputated. The pain, the angst, the loneliness were unbearable, but the worst trauma was the sudden and shocking loss of my identity. Being with him had allowed me to be myself, to be comfortable with both my good points and my bad points. Since I wasn’t in thrall to him (though I did often follow his wishes because I didn’t care what we did or what we ate as long as we were together), it never occurred to me there would be a problem when once again I became single. But I’d grown so used to being with him, that nothing, not even something as simple as watching a movie, seemed important when I did it alone. He’d been the focus of my life for so many years that without him I felt lost, felt as if my life had no meaning. Felt silly for unknowingly letting my identity get so caught up in “us” that when he died, I no longer knew who I was.

The truth is that even for those of us who have a strong identity and know almost everything there is to know about ourselves, a trauma such as the loss of a soul mate shakes our self-concept. Our psyches are like nesting dolls or boxes within boxes or doors within doors (choose your cliché). We never see the doors, so we think we know who we are, but a great emotional upheaval can cause a door to open, letting us see more of ourselves and what we are capable of, revealing a part of our identity that might have been hidden from us until that moment. We get to know who we now are, adding to or changing our idea of ourselves, rethinking the past in light of this new awareness. We might even get comfortable with this revised self-concept until a new trauma opens another door.

And so it is with me. It’s been three and a half years since his death, and until a new trauma comes along, I again know who I am — a being in flux, still strong, still developing my abilities, still learning to empower myself as a person.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

6 Responses to “Grief and the Loss of Identity”

  1. Kathy Says:

    That was simply incredible, Pat! Very well said!

  2. Genevieve Paschal Says:

    It’s been almost 9 months since my husband passed. Today I am wracked with sorrow that he is gone and I am alone. Your posts remind me so much of our life together. I don’t know how I will ever be whole again.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry. It’s a hard thing you have to deal with.

      Chances are you will be whole again, but it takes a long time, generally three to five years. That’s probably not what you want to hear, but knowing how long it takes brought me comfort and allowed me to accept my grief rather than fighting it or feeling terrible about still grieving long after I thought I should have been over it.

      You will probably always miss him, but you will get more used to his being gone. At least, that’s what’s happened to me.

      Wishing you peace.

      • Chuck Coolington Says:

        i found grief and a new identity very rewarding it explains all the stages of grief and the trauma that from a sudden death with no readiness mite make one lose identity from years and years of a close bound between mother and child very for filling it gave me a very lost inside of what i might be dealing with one day and it prepared me

  3. Chuck Coolington Says:

    i really don’t think it takes three to five years it depends what the lost is from grief from murder or suicide mite take that long but death with readiness it shouldn’t take that long and who is to say, no two people feels the same, we may find that the new grief process might feel the same because it’s a new feeling that we are now experiencing, i believe the stages that we make in our grief processes will help , the body dies not the soul, your love ones are still with you. make new memories, remember the good things about that person that makes you happy not just remember the way they died, remember all the good lessons they left you with and carry that on your new journey in life,seek a support team and have some one with you that you can communicate with that would love to hear stories about your loved one and also they can become your third ear, you know with grief other move on in their lives and we are still in the same place it very good to write a journal some thing you can keep your every day thoughts in, on how your doing and how you are feeling it helps to write it out,they say when you can go back and read what you wrote with no tears then you know your healing, healing? the lost of that love one will never go away but with time things do become livable, find a more comfortable place to store your memories and your new feeling is also a part of your grief process, and remember it’s ok to cry that is part of your process, it good to experience the lost the pain the one you lost and loved it’s part of growing, who said this was going to be easy, it’s not , it will get better and your going to surprise your self when it happens , you don’t have to look for it to happen it just does. i wish all of us Good luck that we can seek a good support group to help us on our way to become stronger human being and find a new identity. Grief and a new identity in loving memories many (((HUGS)))

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