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Finding Identity

Following the death of a loved one we may find ourselves wondering who we are, re-discovering our identity, or searching for something and we aren’t sure what it is in this moment. How do we figure it out? Are we limiting ourself as we figure it all out? Do we feel guilty when we decide it is time to make changes and step forward in life once again? In this article we will talk about this and more.

Our identity is important to us. It is how we show up in the world, to the degree that we show up, and we come from this space in our thoughts, decisions, choices, and actions. We sometimes think of our identity as our “role” in the world such as spouse, partner, son, daughter, mother, father, or friend. We may also think our identity is synonymous with our career or job – chef, writer, nurse, teacher, actor, musician, scientist, etc. Better yet, we may think our identity is now widow, widower, orphaned adult, a motherless daughter if our mother or mother figure recently died, etc. In reality our identity is not our role nor our job or career – it is who we are as a person. Spiritually speaking, we are all children of the Divine. Our identity continues to unfold as we grow, change, have life changing and life shifting experiences including losses of any kind. Finding our identity after a loss can feel overwhelming, scary, and a monumental mountain to climb. Shedding past images, past ideas of who we were or thought we were and stepping into a new life can feel incredibly difficult. It’s like when we decide to release some weight and the thought of changing our eating habits, our sleeping habits, our relationship with diet and exercise and then bam! We get invited to a birthday party or some other celebration and are faced with sticking to our decision or make the decision of “just one more day” or “one more meal” and then I will start this new lifestyle shift. It can feel like this when we begin the journey of finding our identity following a loss. Instead of trying to make major changes or shifts quickly consider taking it one baby step at a time. Somedays it may feel safe enough to venture out and try something new while another day may feel like it is better to tuck your head safely back inside your shell like a turtle. Each moment, each day may bring something new to the table. Go with it. Trust yourself, trust your inner self, it will never steer you wrong on this new adventure that you are on.

According to the definition of identity is: “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another”. Being oneself can feel tricky because how do we define being oneself? Do we define it as how our heart feels, do we define it by what others tell us it should be, or do we define it as what we think we should be now? For each of us it will most likely be a different answer. I invite you to take some time to just be in the moment, to ponder what it means to you, maybe even journal or meditate on it. It is quite likely that you will eventually discover your answer to this question – the answer that is unique to you.

What happens when “finding ourself” brings feelings of guilt? This can happen if we are feeling like we are not “supposed” to heal, to move in a new direction. The first time we laugh, or make a major decision without our loved one’s help, or decide to go in a different direction that we ever have before…all of these can bring feelings of guilt. Guilt as I referred to in a different article, can be like “circling the drain”…it can keep us stuck afraid to move in any direction. Healing feelings of guilt allows us to move forward in confidence, in self-love, and empowered to be who we are authentically in this moment. Moving through the grieving process allows us to heal, step forward in life, and transform ourselves and our life into a greater yet to be. It does not in any way diminish the life that we enjoyed with our loved one. I believe that the life that we enjoyed with our loved one becomes the foundation, the building blocks from which we step forward. We gain the strength and the courage to explore, expand, and cultivate a life steeped in new purpose and meaning. I sometimes ask my patients or grievers “What makes you most feel alive?” Your answer might provide a hint as to what your meaning and purpose in life might be – or at least the seedling of what is to come.

Feelings of guilt keep us feeling broken. Remember, in the moments of feeling broken there are opportunities to see the light. The light always dissipates the darkness, the darkness can not swallow up the light. There is a quote by the poet Rumi which says “The wound is the place where the light enters you”. In the feeling of brokenness through grief and loss we can allow the light to enter and heal. The light is defined individually by the griever. It could be a spiritual healing, the love of family and friends or a beloved pet, it could be music, or a book that speaks to our heart, anything that the individual griever finds comfort, power, healing, courage, or strength.

What is also true is that when something is broken and then fixed, it appears as if there are scars. Scars tell us where we have been, they do not tell us where we are going. There is a story from the Japanese culture called Kintsugi. Kintsugi refers to a Japanese process of repairing something that has been broken by adding varnish or resin with gold or silver “glue”. It adds to the beauty of the object that had been broken. Instead of seeing the “flaws” in the bowl, mug, plate, or whatever the object is, the viewer sees uniqueness, beauty, or transformation of what used to be an “ordinary” object into one that has survived potential destruction. Instead of being thrown away, it has been transformed into an object of beauty showing that flaws bring a sense of beauty that would have otherwise not been present. Your flaws, insecurities, fears, inadequacies need not limit you. Rather think of the “glue” that has made you into the person that you are in this moment. The alchemy of kintsugi turns what could have been destructive into something of great beauty, highlighting the strength that comes from within. The grace that is observed in these objects is transformative. May you experience kintsugi as you grieve, heal, and step forward in life as the beautiful, empowered, and strong person that you are now.

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