Defining Your Identity When Faced with Loss

Being a person who’s lost someone in their immediate family at a young age is an identity that’s foisted upon you and made a part of your story without your consent. In this metaphor, of course, we are all the authors of our own life stories, except you’ll find that this chapter, someone else was holding the pen for you. You may feel this chapter is marred and burned into the pages of your story, and the great big Editor in the sky made you include this excerpt against your will with the threat of the rest not being published.

And it is quite easy, and normal, after such an indignant violation, to feel like you do not want the rest of your story published.

In many ways, it feels like the story ends there. It almost feels like that chapter brought you a very haphazard ending and that you have no other option but to write a new one, if you even want it to continue. Your metaphorical writers block leaves you stagnant. Where do I go from here? You had an outline and now the story has gone entirely off the rails, taken on completely new direction, and at best you are left to untangle whatever new identity it’s transformed into and make sense of it.

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This is loss.

There is no clear outline. There is no roadmap or GPS to dealing with grief, as it’s something that is deeply personal and unique to every single one of us. It tries us and changes us in ways that are unpredictable and wholly our own.

And while for many it feels like the end of a story, the unexpected plot twist that leaves you breathless and disoriented and wondering how it’s possible for something to leave off that way, such is an illusion. Death is the end of a physical body.

But it is not the end of you.

Or  your story.

Fuck it, let’s ditch the metaphor, shall we? Someone else’s death is not the end of your story  life. It isn’t. It may feel like your life in many was as you knew it will end, and in some ways this is certainly true. Your life will be altered, and in some ways irrevocably changed, but just because you may take on the new identity of “the boy whose sister died” or “the girl whose father died” you are still you.

You are not defined by the summation of all that you have lost. 

Rather, you can choose to define yourself based on all that you’ve become in spite of devastating loss.

And that can range from merely surviving and being okay, to thriving, and using your loss as something that helps you grow into a person who is both grateful for your moments with the people you love, yet starkly aware of how fleeting and subject to change they can be at any moment.

So yes, I am a girl whose father died when I was 16. But I am also a college graduate, a writer, a musician, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a runner (albeit a bad one), a macaroni and cheese enthusiast, and so many more things that I choose to continue to nurture everyday.

I am definitely the victim of tragedy, and while that is a part of my identity, I choose to define myself for all that I am and have become in the story of my life, not just that one hijacked chapter. I certainly have the choice to be bitter about the parts of my story that were written without my consent. However, I choose to not be defined by what I couldn’t control as a teenager, because I can also choose to define myself based on the person I’ve consciously become today.

So who will you become in the face of loss?

The choice is yours.

Terminally,
Jeanine

 

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3 thoughts on “Defining Your Identity When Faced with Loss

  1. Great post Jeanine! You express yourself with written word most excellently.

    One thing that came to mind while reading was to ask the question: How much are we really every holding the pen in our hand. I think the answer is either always or never. lol Let me explain what I mean by this. How much of our life is something that we really control. I accept much of the evidence that demonstrates that we don’t have free will or at least it operates much differently than we think it does, but that aside we control so little. Where we are born, who our siblings are, who are parents are, which school we go to, what teachers we have. And while I certainly agree that loss stands out much more a significant event, but in terms of “things thrust upon us” both good things and bad things are normally thrust upon us. Now as you correctly point out how we view things, how we view ourselves is up to us. In that case we are always writing the story of our life if we are describing in through our own lens.

    There is a caveat to that though. How much is our ability to deal with loss, or anything for that matter really up to us? Your strength to deal with things might be because of some genetic trait, in which case it’s not your choice. It may be because you had such a strong mother. A mother you did not choose, who taught you how to be strong through her own example, and perhaps not even necessarily by her own choice either. I guess I find that life may be happening to us much more than we think it is, and it’s only our consciousness that makes it seem like we are more often holding the pen than not. So even the way we end up viewing things may be a product of our nature and nurture.

    I know, I probably think about these things far more often than I should! lol

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    • I agree with so much of this! Life is definitely happening to us more than we like to admit, the good, the bad, and the ugly are all things that are foisted upon us although, unexpected abundance is life is rarely looked at through the same lens as loss, so I’m thinking we see it in a different light. I think it’s inherently human to want to have control, or at least a feeling of it, around what happens in our lives. But I will say this much, there are definitely days where my dad’s death took a lot from me. My relationships were strained, my school work suffered, my health suffered, and at that point, I think it was my choice to continue living a full life or just existing and letting life happen to me. I guess my point, more or less, was that I could’ve let this destroy me and lower my quality of life, but I made a conscious effort to not let that happen. And if you put forth effort into it and you still can’t heal, then I think that’s another issue entirely. In that way, that I chose to be conscious in dealing with my loss, I do feel like I had a choice. It’s possible I could’ve not ended up the way I am now, but I guess I’ll never know!

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      • Sorry for my delay in responding. I agree with what you say. I think at some level, whether choice is an illusion or not, that illusion is powerful and has the ability to transform us. But I think you hit on an important point at the end that interests me. We look at those choices in hindsight, as well as the alternatives in hindsight, but we never really know how real those alternatives are. Maybe you would have just dealt with the loss a little later, maybe you would have become a heroin addict, who knows. I guess all I am saying is that sometimes we perhaps in hindsight add more weight to choices than is perhaps warranted.

        I do think though that the choices we make are influenced by who we are as people through the various avenues of nurture we get as we develop. It at least impacts the probabilities of choices. Making what choices seem like a better path or a more likely choice than others. Something tells me you were the type of person to always have the courage to face those difficult emotions, and such courage rarely materializes out of the blue. Great food for thought Jeanine. Thank you!

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