Recently I was sent on a short term assignment at work. Not a big change really. I go to the same building everyday, see many of the same people and while my responsibilities have changed the core mandate of the work I am doing is the same.

Yet I found myself feeling lost, not knowing what to do, or perhaps more clearly stated, not understanding my purpose in this new role and questioning my abilities.I felt unhappy going from a job I knew very well, in which I had the respect of my colleagues and peers, to a job where I was not the expert, where I often needed to ask for help and in which I felt less worthy of the respect of my colleague and peers. I was challenged to focus on a task and relieved as the day ended and I could head home, a familiar place where I feel comfortable, understand my roles and know what to do.

Observing how this little, short term, non life altering change had impacted me really got me thinking even more deeply and concretely about the impact grief and loss can have on our sense of who we are. The death of a loved one, mother, child, husband, dear friend cause us to reflect on “who am I” in light of this loss. Am I a daughter, wife, father…what do I look like with this change in my life? What is my role? The perspective of the stories in our lives changes. Our ability to envision the future is compromised.

Depending on the nature of the loss, the cause of the grief, our sense of self, the meaning of the things we do, the life we lead are brought into question. Our mourning of a loved one no longer being physically present in our life causes us to question how we see ourselves and the life we are living.

We may question our social roles – father, mother, husband, wife, sister, child…..

We may question our functional roles – employee, supervisor, coach, teacher….

We may question how we view our personality type – organized, cheerful, responsible….

Already unsettled by our grief the questions that come can make us feel even more uncertain, ungrounded. Looking for answers to our questions can feel scary and lonely.

Grieving and mourning are natural change enabling processes. Unfortunately in a world where we are judged by our appearance of strength rather than our willingness to be vulnerable. The temptation is to grasp onto any form of certainty rather than allowing ourselves to “be” in a space of uncertainty which could lead to authentic insight and creativity making space for our redefined self to unfold. To grow and learn from grief we need to get comfortable with “I don’t know”…..the space of “not knowing” is a space of great potential.

Natural as the process may be, it is not simple. Asking for help may be the hardest yet most helpful step towards creating space for moving through grief into growth.

Death Changes the Relationship, It Doesn’t Have to End

One of the hardest parts when someone dies is trying to “get over it”. What if we didn’t try to do that? What if we tried to get into it? What if we changed our vocabulary around grief. What if we found a way to rewrite the story of our relationship. Death does not have to be the end of a relationship.

In my life so far a good number of people I have known and loved have died. I have been sad and I have grieved. I have also found that over time, much like relationships with the living people in my life, some relationships with those who have died have continued to be part of my life,some I know will be with me forever and some have become memories of times gone by.

Continuing to have a relationship with people who have died during my life mostly happened organically until I began to study death, dying, grieving and bereavement over ten years ago. Over time I began to consciously look at my relationships with the people in my life who had died. I realized that many of them had not ended. That our relationship had been redefined. That having them in my life did not make me crazy, nor did it mean that I was not dealing with the “reality” of their death.

Well meaning friends and family encourage us to move on with our lives when a loved one has died. Does moving on mean we have to leave that person, that relationship, that love behind, in order for our life to move forward? I don’t think so. I think we have other choices, healthy choices, consciously made that integrate those relationships into our life, the one without their physical presence, the life we will need to redefine, lovingly, patiently at our own pace, in our own time, to get to a place of wholehearted living that re-members those relationships creating a continued bond.

In my grandmother’s presence I felt loved and accepted for who I was in that moment. She gave me the gift of unconditional love, quietly, gently and hugely. I was blessed with this gift for many years, she lived well into her nineties. When she died I was sad thinking that gift was gone. Today, I know the choice is mine. In remembering that presence, I can still find hope, love and strength by allowing that relationship to continue in my life.

Sometimes death brings an end to a relationship that was not so great. The idea of remembering a loving relationship in my life and redefining it after death was certainly easier than accepting that I can choose, without guilt or shame, not to include all relationships with the dead in my path forward. I can choose what to remember, what to reconstruct, what serves me well to moving forward.

These reflections, thoughts, choices, decisions when living with grief after death, loss, change, sometimes even change we hoped and wished for don’t lend themselves easily to casual conversations. Often the people who care the most about us are the least willing to be part of our process. They don’t want to see us sad, say anything that will make us sad, see us suffer. In society that is death averse rather than accepting of its natural place in the circle of life, sadness and grief are things to “get over”. Things not to be talked about before or after. Things shunned rather than embraced.

I love having my grandmother in my life. I don’t look forward to anyone experiencing sickness, pain, loss or death themselves or in the lives of those they love. I believe we can make a shift to a more compassionate, kinder relationship with death, dying, grief and bereavement. That we can open ourselves to an expansive experience rather than close and constrict. Let’s start the conversation.