After Death – 2017AD
When grief comes across our path, by way of a death, we find that life suddenly becomes divided into two, before death and after death. We often no longer conceptualise life as being on a singular continuum, but rather it is running on two separate lines. It can feel as though you have entered into an ulterior dimension. Life has been so unfathomably changed that it is not possible to keep on the same path that you were travelling.
A wife loses her husband, and in the blink of an eye she seemingly loses title (wife to widow) and position (spouse to single). In this way, the life as she knew it has stopped. With that final heartbeat, everything changed for her.
She has entered into the After Death.
Everything changes in the After Death, even her language. She’ll talk of memories in her life, but will preface it with “before [name] died I did…” or “…I was…” or “…we did…”. Whatever she talks about in the “before” will link in to the identity she had before death tore her world into two. This process is disconcerting and often times very painful. After all, how does one find peace about being in the After Death, when this is the very last place they ever expected to find themselves in?
There are many key areas which need attention in the After Death, but here I will discuss just two, the first of which is the IDENTITY SHIFT. This is where you come to the realisation that the identity you had before death has changed.
In a way, this “before” identity needs to be mourned as well.
Grief is so much more than just mourning the loss of a loved one, it is also about mourning the loss of who you were when you were with that loved one. That loved one defined part of your life, either as a spouse, or a friend, or an Aunt, or a parent. That loved one formed a context in your world through which you created meaning, in other words you could identify yourself as a husband or a wife and by doing so it is socially understood what that means. It means that you have another half, you have someone who completes you, you have someone who is both your best friend and forever companion.
But when you lose that, you lose the identity that it inherently held. You are now in the After Death, and you are finding out what your new identity is. Who are you now that you are a widow/widower, now that you have lost a child, or lost a friend? What is the context of your life now, now that you have lost someone so important to you?
These are some of the questions within the IDENTITY SHIFT. You are facing a time in your life where you are gradually redefining who you are. This can be scary, exciting, and also incredibly sad as well. It is scary because you are venturing into new territory, somewhere that you did not expect that you would ever have to go, let alone doing it by yourself. It is exciting because you get to be the author of your own destiny, and decide which way you want life to go. It is sad because if it hadn’t been for the death of someone you loved, you would never have needed to change your identity in the first place.
It is important to note here that you are completely entitled to mourn the process of this identity shift, because it is something that can be incredibly difficult to navigate.
It would be remiss of me to talk of an IDENTITY SHIFT without talking about how you start to make this change. A lot of it is actually trial and error, finding your way in the world again but this time without a significant person in your life. Some questions I recommend asking of yourself include:
- What do I find enjoyable?
- Where do I want my life to go?
- Is there anything I particularly want to achieve?
- What activities invigorate my soul?
- What would my loved one want me to do with my life?
Brainstorm, plan, dream. You will find that the things you love to do shape a large portion of your identity.
For example, if you love to volunteer it shows that you have a heart for people and for serving, both of which would form a part of your identity. Yes, it is hard to have your identity shift away from what it once was but it also does not have to be so significant that you no longer recognise yourself. What you loved in the “before”, you probably still love in the After Death; so whilst your identity does shift, it can still be a variant of what it once was.
The second area that I will mention is FINDING PEACE. This can be done in many different ways, and it is about finding the way that works for you best. Whilst not easy in the beginning, one way of finding peace is in learning to let go of your loved one.
“Letting go” sounds so flippant, and perhaps callous, so it is important for me to preface it with this:
Letting go does not mean forget. In fact, I recommend you remember as much as possible.
Someone once told me that the tighter I hold on to something, the more likely I am to lose it. That it is more important to hold things with a gentle and open hand, and that the more I do it, the more likely it is that I can hold on to it for longer. I find, in mourning and grief, that this principle still stands.
From experience, I learned that the harder I tried to hold on to my loved one, the more I got myself stuck in complicated grief.
Over time, as I learned to hold them more gently I was able to move past difficult grief and into a place where I could remember them without pain.
So, when I speak of “letting go” of your loved one, it is perhaps better to say “loosen your grip” on them. By all means, hold them dear to your heart for the rest of your life, but do it in a way that does not hold you back, that does not get you stuck in complicated grief. Because the path of complicated grief does not lead to peace, and my heart for you is that you always have peace.
Peace can also come in the daily activities you do. They can be some of the smallest things, like picking flowers, patting a dog, walking in nature, reading a good book, having a laugh with a friend. These aspects of your life are crucial to finding peace, regardless of whether you have gone through grief or not, and even more important if you have.
You need to remember what brings you joy. For where you find joy, you will find peace.
The After Death can be difficult to navigate, there are so many things that change in this stage of life. But it does not have to be the end of your story. You can use it as a platform from which you create a new identity, and as you find peace, you will find that you have a story still to tell.
By Danielle Myers