Self-Discovery in Grief

February 25, 2022, Grief

Self-Discovery in Grief: By Laurel Freeman, LCPC

Discovering Our New Sense of Self

We know that the death of our loved one has changed us forever. We’re not the same person we used to be. And we don’t have much of an idea who we’ll be in the future. There’s that unsettling, sometimes excruciating middle ground of being in neither place. We aren’t yet the new version of ourselves that this painful experience is transforming us to be.

As a Gilchrist grief counselor, I’ve observed that losing a loved one can often set a person on the path of self-discovery. Our sense of self is intertwined with our relationship to the significant person in our life, and when they’re no longer here, it leaves us reeling—feeling lost, adrift. The questions about our identity may not show up in the early months, but they’ll surface in time. We may find ourselves thinking, “Who am I?” or “Who am I now?” while counting the many things that have changed after a loved one dies.

When the days come when we find little bits of ourselves that we recognize, we may feel some curiosity or perhaps even a sliver of hope. We can dig deep and begin to draw on newfound strength within us that we didn’t even know we had.

Drawing on Experiences from Past Generations

We can think of our family members or go back generations to our ancestors, and draw on their stories of grit and perseverance after their losses.

What did our ancestors do when things were difficult? Did they change course after discovering what mattered most to them? Did they stay the course and commit to something they valued? Did they reach back to an unfulfilled dream and revive it with a new twist? Did they dare to dream a new dream when the one shared with their loved one vanished into thin air? Did they take up a new interest, learn a new skill or dive into developing an aspect of themselves that had laid dormant or they had admired in their loved one?

We can draw upon our ancestors’ and our loved ones’ experience, strength and wisdom. We will grow in the broken or painful places. Oh, we’ll protest why it’s happening, but we may eventually find some gratitude, however small, that something positive can come out of our experience. And what if discovering who we are now IS a way of living out the love we have for them?

As the author and bereaved father Dr. Ken Druck said, “By living out our own lives and making the most of each day (as they would have wished), we honor them.”

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