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.

The Transformation of the Hero

One of the best books about writing I ever read was David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder. It’s a how-to for writing science fiction and fantasy, but it’s applicable to all writers since, in the end, we are all creating worlds of wonder.

The aspect of the book I would like to discuss is the transformation of the hero. In the beginning, the situation is introduced and the hero discovers she has a problem. She attempts action and, though she gives it all she has, she is beaten by the problem. She gains a deeper understanding of the problem, then tries again, exhausting all possibilities she knows. All that is left is what she doesn’t know. Finally, because some event occurs or some person says something that triggers the hero’s realization of what she has to do, the hero goes through a shift in being, a reinvention of herself, and confronts the problem directly.

This transformation of the character is the reason you’re telling the story. A story is an account of how a particular person who started out like that ended up like this.

Most problems are about not handling the problem. By choosing to make the situation the problem, the hero creates herself as the source of the problem. Until she recognizes her own authorship of the dilemma, she cannot create herself as the source of the resolution. She has to give up whatever investment she has in not solving the problem. The hero has to be awakened to the possibility that there is another way to think about this. Another way to be.

So transformation is not only the re-creation of the hero as the owner of the situation, it is self-empowerment as well.

In science fiction and fantasy, this transformation is not metaphysical but real. In the process of transformation, not only is the hero changed, but the world in which he exists is also transformed.

In all other fictions, this transformation is more internal, but still real.

I have been thinking about transformation lately as pertaining to my real life. In order to become one of those rare writers who can support herself with sales of her books, I need to transform myself into an “Author,” to recreate myself as if I were a character in one of my books. Don’t know how to do it, and the only reason I’m mentioning it is to show the validity of the hero’s transformation.

So, what problems confront your heroes? How do they attempt to solve them? How are they thwarted? And finally, how do they recreate themselves to solve the problems?

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