First you lose your loved one, then you lose yourself. A personal essay about grief.
My Mom died two and a half years ago. It was sudden. Without warning she went into cardiac arrest in her home early on a Monday morning. Although I remember everything from that day, it took me several hours to actually understand what was happening – that she was dead. That this was permanent.
Once your brain is able to process that you have lost someone extremely close to you, like a parent, the world turns gray. Just like that, in an instant. Everything loses its color and vibrancy. I have had very close family members die, like my grandparents, and I have mourned and missed them. But something different happens when you lose someone who was a part of you, your foundation breaks.
The pieces that made you who you are, are shattered. It is as if a bomb exploded inside of you and your soul, your spirit, your heart, your brain – everything about you is in too many pieces to put back together.
I remember thinking that I would never be able to feel happiness. I could not imagine ever being able to laugh, enjoy, or feel excitement again. And it does stay like that for a while. But slowly emotions begin to return. You find yourself enjoying a TV show, or laughing on a phone call with a friend. You experience the necessary firsts. The first birthdays, holidays, and everything in between without your loved one. You are told the first year is always the hardest, and you believe it.
As more time passes your new routine becomes habit, and you manage better every day. The tears lessen, you can speak about your loved one without as much sadness, and you begin to notice there are parts of you healing. You have made it through your first year.
But a new form of grief arises. One that no one warns you about and it was not mentioned in the bereavement books you read. This time you have to grieve yourself, or rather the person you used to be.
The pieces of you that were shattered have been stitched back together, but not all of them back in the same place as before. You realize you are fundamentally different. You probably look the same, you may even seem the same to friends and family, but on the inside you are a new person.
Your reactions to situations are different. Priorities have been rearranged. There are some things you no longer care about, and new things that cause your emotions to stir. Relationships with people you have known for years may now seem hollow, and you crave a deeper connection than that relationship can provide. You talk to some close friends less than before. An extreme sensitivity to certain topics is awakened in you, but there is also dismissiveness to things you once tolerated. Preferences and interests change. You are essentially relearning life – relearning who you are – all over again.
I was not prepared for this side effect after my Mom’s death, this second wave of grief. I did not know I would have to figure out my emotional responses to everyday situations all over again, and I mourned who I used to be. I mourned the carefree version of myself who never seemed to have a worry. The person who assumed everything would work out. The person who enjoyed adventure more than companionship, and who seemingly had more friendship options because depth of character was not as important as it is now. The person who was not as sensitive to death, illness, suffering, or inequality in the world. The person who infrequently cried. The person who did not know how temporary life actually is.
In many ways this relearning can be positive once you are able to regain your footing. Ultimately our choices become more precious and our priorities become clearer.
When your life has been hit with loss, you understand there is pain that comes with it and you can share what you are feeling with others. Once the established ‘appropriate amount of time’ has passed and people stop asking how you are, that is when you realize you are not the same. Experiences and once common happenings feel different. Your reaction, your feelings, and your emotional responses are new and unknown to you. You cannot trust that the life you had built for yourself will provide you with what you need. You cannot expect your old life to bring you new forms of satisfaction. And you cannot predict how you will feel about anything until you are feeling it. You have to mourn the old you and accept this new version. Accept that at your center of being, at your core, you are changed forever.
Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection. Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn
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