When someone dies, we don't just lose a person. We lose a part of ourselves too.

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.

"Come sit with me, and tell me your story"

I had coffee with a friend today, and she told me something about her daughter's primary school that made me feel a hint of optimism about the future of this broken and pained world we live in at the moment.

She told me that her 5 year old daughter had bought home a letter from the school. It read like this:

Dear Parents/carers,

We are about to start a new project about Journeys.  We would love to hear about real life experiences. If you have moved from a different country to come and live in London, particularly if you came as a refugee or asylum seeker, we would really like you, or a family member, to share your experiences of your journey and your arrival here.  This would involve either speaking to a group of children or being video recorded. We think your experiences are very valuable and would love you to share them with the children. Thank you.

In this brief, simple plea for volunteers, I heard so much - a welcome to people who may not have previously felt welcomed; an openness to listen to the stories people want, and probably need, to share about something as important as their (perhaps extremely dangerous) journey from one life to another; a recognition that those of us who have been lucky enough to be able to stay in the country of our birth, without overwhelming fear for our lives, might be able to learn from others who have not been so lucky, as well as the simple understanding that being heard and listened to is so powerful and meaningful.   

The world is a wounded, troubled place at the moment, with suspicion towards those who are 'different' rife in so many communities.  But requests like this, coming at a time when one could be forgiven for 'battening down the hatches' against 'outsiders', left me feeling optimistic for the future, optimistic for the world these children are growing up in, and for the children who tell - and hear - these stories, children who will ultimately shape the world of the future, and the future of the world.