On Identity

The rupture of the love room after my aunt died lead me to explore my identity: who was I, if not her niece? What had our family lost, in losing her? Who would remember what we had been, if she was gone? And how would we go forward, alone? How would I go forward, alone?

I’m not sure why this search for identity erupted from the chaos of loss. I had a happy life: a circle of friends I had known for years; a small and close community; a sweet place to live; a job I loved; daughters who lived nearby. But my aunt’s death shifted a foundation stone upon which my okayness in the world had been built, and I was adrift.

In her blog on being a young widow, Emily Clark writes: “There is a startling identity vacuum that accompanies loss…..At best I was broken. At worst, I didn’t exist at all.” When my friend Eleanor lost her husband of 50 years, she went to the grocery store after the funeral, and came home with nothing. She didn’t know what to buy, she said. So much of her shopping had revolved around what her husband liked; what they had liked, together. It took her several trips before she could buy something for just herself to eat.

I think that, in some mysterious way, our skin, our whole being, is married to who and what we love. The love room becomes a place where we sink roots, share habits, learn to trust what’s around us. Our identity doesn’t stand alone; it is shored up and anchored by those who share our lives.

I’m curious about how others handle this unraveling of identity in the aftermath of loss –

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