I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore; Grief and Self Identity

“No Rule Book. No Time Frame. No Judgment. Grief is as Individual as a Fingerprint. Do What is Right for Your Soul.” –  One Fit Widow

After we lose a beloved companion animal, the life we shared with them can begin to feel like a past life; an era of our life defined, in part, by their presence in it. The constructs of our identity and sense of self changes after a loved one dies and we can begin to feel like a stranger in a strange and unfamiliar land.  Grief shakes us to our very core; changes our priorities, assumptions and beliefs about our world.  Grief is not only about the primary loss of our companion animal, but also about the secondary losses we ultimately experience; we lose our sense of normalcy and a large part of our self-identity as we slowly begin to realize we can never fully go back to who we were before the loss. When we think of all the things we grieve as part of this devastating loss, one thing we often don’t take the time to mourn is that sense of ‘normalcy’ we used to know, that ‘normal’ person we used to be. We are challenged with learning how we define ourselves without our loved one and create a life that is sculpted by enduring love AND enduring loss.  It can feel incomprehensible to understand who we are, how we fit, and what “normal” could possibly look like in a world without our cherished companion animal.  ‘Before and after’ experience is remarkably common after the death of a companion animal and we need to be gentle and patience with ourselves as we learn to cope and adjust to the life we’re living now.

Losing the person we were before our loss doesn’t mean we will never be happy again and it doesn’t mean we won’t create a ‘new normal ’or make space for new people, new hopes, and new dreams. It does mean that in our life going on without our beloved by our side will always be a bittersweet reminder that they are gone and that we are indeed different. Every day without our beloved companion animal by our side is a reminder that our world is no longer experienced as ‘normal’ as we are forced to make sense out of the loss and very slowly begin to incorporate a new identity and sense of self that includes both the person we used to be, with a set of memories from ‘before’, and a new person, who walks through and experiences the world differently.  Losing a loved one challenges us to somehow, day by day, start to find some sort of ‘new normal’, all the while knowing we will never be normal again.

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