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Because family life matters

I don’t know who I am anymore

Facing the loss of identity after the death of partner

“I don’t know who I am anymore”.

Many of you who have been bereaved of a partner will identify with this statement. When our partner dies we lose a part of ourselves – our identity alters, and we are not the same person that we were before.

Loss of identityWe grieve not just for the person who has died, but for the relationship we had with them. The role that we had in our life with them has gone: we are no longer a wife or husband, we may now be a lone parent, we may have lost our role as a caregiver. We may also feel the loss of a shared identity as a family.

When my husband Gary died, it came almost as a shock that I no longer felt comfortable in social situations with people with whom we had spent happy and relaxed social times as a couple for many years. It was not them who was different, but me. I had changed, but not through any choice of my own.

Trying to adjust to a new identity when there is so much else to contemplate and so many decisions to make, can be overwhelming, but it is possible, and with time and support there can be hope for a new life and a ‘new you’.

We can build a new identity around the skills, roles and relationships that have meaning in our lives. Here’s some tips to help you to begin to ‘reform’ – to establish your new identity:

  • Give yourself permission to grieve – be kind to yourself. You may experience a wide range of emotions as you face up to the changes in your life. Allowing yourself to grieve is an important part of healing.
  • Look for support from others and accept help. This is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you want to help yourself to begin to heal. By actively seeking the right person to come alongside us, it helps us to feel secure and supported, and gives us the confidence to take those first steps. Download the “How to help” tips and give to friends and relatives to help them understand your needs.
  • Accept that socially your life has changed. It is tempting to withdraw from people when socialising is so painful, but be aware that this can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Ask yourself what new relationships and friendships will have to be established so that your life can develop.
  • Choose to step forward – this does not mean you have to forget or leave behind your loved one. You will always love the person who has died, and it is possible to carry their memories with you and integrate them into your future in a positive way.
  • Make changes when you are ready. Accept that you will be ready to take certain actions in your own time (grief is a very individual process).
  • Work out what you need to add and include in your life now that your loved one is no longer present. What new roles will you have to take on and what skills may you need to learn to do this?
  • Develop new interests and routines. You may need to do new things or do things in different ways. Developing new interests will help give you a sense of personal fulfilment and be a focus for the journey ahead.
  • Keep a record of your successes. This will help you to look back and see what you have been able to achieve as the new you.

It can be hard to take the first steps in your new identity, but in time you will be glad that you did.

Be encouraged – you are not alone. Others have travelled this journey, and have found that it is possible to build a new life for themselves.