JUSTin Time: The Power Behind a Red Door

“Separate Your Identity”

Continuing on through “Grief’s 5 stages and recovery tasks,” this post deals finding a new normal.

1. Accept the loss and face it honestly. This also means taking an inventory of other significant losses in the life of the one grieving and considering the secondary losses related to the primary one.

2. Release emotions. Grieve honestly and don’t cover up your feelings.

3. Store good memories. Carry good memories of the person who was lost in your heart. Recovering does not mean forgetting.

4. Separate your identity from the person, from what you have lost.

5. Reinvest in life. Part of the healing process is to begin to think and act outside yourself.

When we lose someone close to us, we lose a part of ourselves. Because of that, it can take a long time to start thinking in terms of we and start thinking about me again.

Who am I going to turn to now that my mom died? Who is going to walk me down the aisle some day now that my dad is gone? Who am I going to grow old with now that I’ve lost my spouse? How in the world am I going to function having lost a child?

These question consume us when a loss is fresh and raw. They’re quite natural, and thus form the fourth stage of grief – depression.

At sometime during a month after Justin’s death, I remember answering some questions for a receptionist at the doctor’s office. “Marital status?” she asked. I froze. It still didn’t say right to say I was no longer married. Saying I was single sounded dreadful. After what felt like an eternity, she repeated the question. “Sorry, widow, I guess. It’s still new.”

It became hard to spend time with married friends. It was definitely hard meeting new people, since “are you married” is a pretty common ice breaker question. I didn’t know what to do. It was too easy to be miserable and believe that happiness would never be possible again.

To paraphrase my bereavement counselor at the time: “You have to separate the path that you and Justin were on and decide what you want to do with your life now.”

It took a while to imagine any new sort of identity. I felt guilty thinking about a future that I no longer shared with Justin.

About year after Justin died, I remember being at the store. I was about to grab a package of the brand of soap we always bought when I stopped myself. With a smile that probably made fellow shoppers think I was crazy, I reached instead for a scented, more girly brand that Justin would never have used.

It was a small step, but it was the first time I recalled thinking I could be okay being a me rather than an us again.

It doesn’t happen over night, and there will most certainly be relapses. But once you start thinking about what your future will be like without your parent, your spouse or your child the depression doesn’t come as often or stay as long when it does hit.

This isn’t because you’ve pushed aside your loved one, quite the opposite really. It’s because you’re allowing yourself to carry on in a way that would make your loved one proud. They don’t want us to sit in the dark and try to pause time while we drown in our grief. They want us to do what they can’t – live.

What kind of person are you going to become to honor your lost loved one?

– Kelly

Kelly Hendershot has been active with Gilda’s Club since 2008 as a family member, bereaved, intern, group facilitator and president of the Associate Board.