A friend whose husband died over a year ago told me recently that she was experiencing an aspect of grief she had not been warned about. She knew she would grieve for him, but she was also grieving for the person she was when he was alive. She felt she had lost that person.

She knows she must live without him but how can she cope without the person she used to be. The loss of identity is very real and extraordinarily strong. She wanted to know how she can be anyone else but herself.

Some people say rather than letting go, you can bring the past into the present. The person she lost; the person she was; those are all things that will still be a part of my friend as she goes forward. A connection to the person she used to be may be a healthy part of moving forward.

When we lose someone, we often feel we have lost this relational sense of self. We find ourselves asking questions like, who am I if not a partner, child, brother, sister, or even a neighbour?

After both my parents died, I wondered whether I was still a daughter and questioned my identity. I still define my life into when I had parents and after I did not. I found it hard, there was no one of the older generation to defer to, no parents no aunts or uncles. I felt quite lost until I thought I would always be a daughter as I would talk to them, write to them, and include them in my life.

My friend felt that now she was not a wife but a widow; her identity changed in that way.

I want to discuss this loss of one’s own identity when through loss and grief, to include spouses, siblings, children’s, cousins, and loss to mean as well as through death, maybe illness, divorce, separation.

If you did not experience any change in identity can you share why?

Most of the literature tends to focus on grieving for the person who died, not the person who is left behind and finds their life and often themselves to be changed too.

Can you share your experiences about any loss that has caused you to question your identity and feel it has changed?

Were you prepared for the experience of grieving for the person you used to be?

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