Death has been very ‘alive’ in my life recently. In the space of two months, I lost two significant and much loved family members. I have been thinking that perhaps we all go through periods where loved ones die or pass away in quick succession – sadly, that’s the nature of life. And when that happens, of course, we grieve. Grieving is a normal and essential response to losing someone we love.
But there’s an aspect of bereavement and grief I have been aware of in my own process that doesn’t, I think, get named as much as it could/should. That when someone close to us dies we don’t just lose that person, we also lose a part of ourselves. The person we were in relation to …….. (delete as appropriate). If, for example, we lose a sibling, we stop being a brother/sister; if we lose a spouse or intimate partner, we stop being a husband/wife/partner; if we lose a parent, we stop being a daughter/son to a father/mother. And perhaps most painful of all, if we lose a child, we stop being their mother/father. Of course, we might have another parent, or other siblings or children, but no relationship is identical. Each configuration of relationships is unique.
After a death, we have to get used to being a child (even an adult child) without a mother or father; someone without a sibling (perhaps especially painful if we have become a lone twin), or a parent without a child. That’s just a short list, limited to family members - naturally this is also true when we lose friends or work colleagues, for instance.
It’s also true for people who lose an unborn child. And for people, but perhaps especially women, who are struggling with infertility. In this instance, we might not be a parent yet, but we invest in a sense of ourselves as a parent with a baby - our baby. At each ‘non-pregnancy’ we lose that sense of who we want to become.
I am also thinking that this death of a part of ourselves also has resonance when we think about the response to the deaths of celebrities. I am mindful of the huge sense of loss that David Bowie and Prince's death has lead to in so many fans of these music legends. And how this was captured so eloquently and simply by this tweet by @ElusiveJ. So yes, when a celebrity who has been hugely influential in our own personal development dies, a bit of us dies too.
For me, as I move through my bereavement process, on occasion my breath is taken away when I think about the people I have lost. Their absence is a big gaping hole in my life. No doubt one day that hole will be smaller (and less easy to emotionally fall into!), although it will never disappear completely. Nor would I want it to. But I am also getting used to the hole inside of me – the part of myself I have lost.