September 15, 2011 // Uncategorized

Mirror of the heart

Being in relationship with God and others is what life is really all about. Our relationship with God grows daily if we work at staying in communication with Him via prayer, the sacraments and service. But that’s for another column.

Our earthly relationships with others help us form our identity and those boundaries within which we move. As children our relationship with our parents gives us the title of daughter or son. We know that mom and dad are there to guide and love us, to keep us safe, and we stay within those boundaries as we grow to independence.

Each relationship we nurture offers its own unique opportunity for identity and growth. Each connection provides a mirror from which to see and evaluate ourselves, a place to experience life to the fullest.

Being a sibling, friend or coworker means meeting another on level ground where a healthy give- and-take exchange creates the contemporary bond we seek. A spousal relationship can be one of the most intimate bonds as it is a complex relationship of choice, which requires commitment and understanding. A parent-child relationship is based on unconditional love and is like no other.

Of course, there are many relationships we form throughout our lives that paint the landscape of our being. They are the conduits within which we experience joy, heartache, drama, fulfillment, direction, support and our very identity.

What then when we lose a loved one to death?

What happens to our identity and the place in the world we held in relation to that special person?

When a child dies are you still a parent? Are you still a spouse when you lose your marriage partner? A friend when your loved one is no longer there to share life’s joys and challenges?

My struggle with identity began 21 years ago when my husband Trent was killed in a car accident. In our early 30s, Trent and I had built a nice life for ourselves with our two young daughters. I was happy and secure in my role as wife and stay-at-home mom. When Trent died, what I knew of the place in life I held so dear was forever altered.

It became immediately clear that we live in a couple’s world in which I no longer was a part. With no husband to balance my title as wife, my legal identity changed to widow. As my coupled friends slowly withdrew I fought loneliness on a level I had never experienced before. My spousal relationship with Trent had provided a place for me in that world.

As I worked through my grief — through many tears, trials and mishaps, I discovered new ground on which to safely stand, with friends and family who allowed me space to discover who I was without my spouse.

Many of the widows and widowers I have companioned in grief have felt confused, just as I had, as to who they are to become now that their beloved is no longer beside them. The hole in our lives that our loved one leaves upon death opens not only a frightening abyss of confusion and loss, but also fertile ground in which to plant a new life. The natural response of confusion to the loss of a loved one can only be remedied by acknowledging the loss of identity and working with the grief to form a new place in life.

And I have found that there are many who wish to help.

This new normal requires time, persistence and a little help from our friends, but is achievable. Our new lives and identities will be based on the love we carry in our hearts for our deceased loved ones. We can create new relationships and nurture old ones that will provide us with the mirror with which to identify ourselves. And though we are changed by our loss and life is different, we can still create a fulfilling life of joy and purpose.

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