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.
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.