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Changes in identity after a bereavement

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

When someone we are close to dies, we can wonder how our life will now look. We had an idea of who we are and where we want to be in life, but death can change that. The shape of it changes, it’s a different colour, it might even feel or sound different to before as we try to make sense of what we are left with. The goals we had before might feel less motivating or in contrast, we might feel more inspired to reach them.

Attitudes might change, our outlook and perspective on life may feel altered. Even our belief system can change, some people might feel more connected to their spirituality and others may withdraw from it. When we lose someone, our sense of self can alter or shift a little, which means we are not only dealing with a tragic loss of someone we love but we might also have to navigate the person we have become and what to do with that person.

Changes in our identity might feel scary or confusing, especially if it does not feel familiar. It might feel natural to reject those changes and try and cling on to the parts of ourselves we feel we are losing.

But I want to say, it’s okay.

It’s okay that your usual hobbies no longer interest you and you want to try something new. It’s okay if your belief system has been shaken and you are now unsure of what you believe in. It’s okay if you feel like the direction of your life has changed and you now want something else. It’s okay if you feel a lack of motivation and it’s absolutely okay if you feel the opposite and want to work harder than you have before.

These life/identity changes (no matter how big or small) are a natural response to bereavement. As you begin to process and digest, you might decide that some of the new changes feel empowering as you are given a new perspective, or you’ve been pushed in a different direction. Whilst other changes feel like a loss within themselves and sometimes it's not one or the other but we feel them simultaneously.

After my Dad died, I went through significant changes. I went to acting classes when I was younger and absolutely loved them. But not so long after my dad died, I quit. I still enjoyed acting but I no longer wanted to participate in classes. This would have been strange for pre-bereaved Alice, as the classes were something that provided me with joy and freedom however, I felt like they no longer belonged in my life. I didn’t have a rational explanation for this, I just felt it within my being that I was done. But on the other-hand I became super motivated at college. I was encouraged to sit my exams later and do an extra year at College because of my loss but I refused. I felt this inner fight, it was like something with strong roots had grown inside of me. Since then, I have gone through many changes, some significant and some I’m probably not even aware of. I am not the exact same Alice I was before my Dad passed but that is okay. It can feel big, overwhelming, empowering, traumatic and devastating all at once, but you will be okay.

I have created a list of activities you can do which can help you make sense of the new changes you face and the life you are left with. Over the years, these have helped me create the life that I want which suits the person I have become.

You could:

  • Make yourself a mood board of all the things you want from life and all the things you currently enjoy. You can draw, make a collage, write. Do this in a way that feels right for you.

  • Write down a list of goals that you would like to achieve and stick it up in your room. (This could be anything from travel to go for walks)

  • Write letters to your future self. You could pick significant dates like your birthday day, the anniversary of your loved one’s death or even a few months into the future.

  • Write down affirmations and stick them up somewhere on your wall.

These are just a few ideas and ones that have worked for me, but I am sure there are plenty more that you can do!

I will leave you with this quote which I feel sums this up wonderfully:

‘So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things and we can try to feel okay about them.’ – Steven Chbosky

Written by Alice Spencer

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