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Identity: grief, loss , and fear

2020 has been a year marking many shifts and changes. In these last two weeks, we have dealt with fires, the loss of jobs, the death of an actor who created a role that many people connected with, and even a perception of loss of rights. What do all of these things have in common, other than loss? In all of these things, it’s not just the feelings of loss, confusion, and anger, it is also the loss of an identity. Identity is something that often gets taken for granted or forgotten in any of these situations.  With a fire, there is not just the loss of material possessions, there is also the loss of the things those possessions represented — the sentiments attached to them which are tied to the sense of identity. These may be things that can never be replaced, which are significant milestones in a person’s journey and act as touchpoints to remind them of choices that they have made. The same thing is seen with the loss of a job, which is often an integral part of someone’s identity and a way of introducing themselves to others. A person’s job will determine how someone may see that person, whether they are a CEO, or the person who cleans the floors.  It is both how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves in the world, and its loss can generate confusion around who we are. The same is being felt with the death of Chadwick Boseman. For many, he represented an image and identity of not only what we are, but what we could be and what choices we can make. All of this generates loss and ultimately sadness.

As this loss is felt, for some, they are seen only as things that can be replaced. Depending on the item, that may be true. Yet this doesn’t negate the process of grief, which is connected to this sense of loss, and must be experienced fully before the person can have the potential to grow again and rebuild. Grief is another part of this process that must be gone through, just like when someone dies, and that is what’s being felt by many who have lost their identities due to the loss of their jobs due to COVID-19. Equally, the response is the same for those who have felt constrained by the wearing of the masks and being stuck inside. This level of grief has not been felt before in this age. 

There are also those who are afraid of losing a sense of identity that they have lived with for most of their lives. Whether that identity was a healthy one or not, it is still an identity that is being clung to. Ultimately, to avoid the pain and potential process of loss and grief that will naturally follow, they will fight. And with that fight, they can do greater harm and propagate more loss and grief in trying to protect this singular identity that they consider most important, especially in this political climate that is becoming hotter and hotter. 

As we are presently experiencing, with the impact of the fires and the loss of jobs, we need to be more aware as we deal with those around us who are experiencing grief, loss, and fear. 

  We are more than a single identity. We also hold roles as family members, roles as members of a community, roles as fans of different media, or simply as bystanders of what is happening around us. We should consider all of these when we think about what, and who, we are in the world. 

It would be wise to make copies of all important documents, including old photos, and in the act of doing so, we can find security for ourselves and for any who might come after. 

Remember that for anyone who is going through this grieving process, there may be multiple steps involved, and those steps may have different time frames associated with them, so it is important to keep expectations realistic about how they are progressing in their grief.

Just be ready to listen when someone does speak of their loss of identity in their grieving process.  The most effective thing you can do is listen; do not try to fix. 

Avoiding these processes can lead to greater mental distress and life habits that can become destructive. Grief counseling will focus on dealing with the loss of someone close to us. But remember that all counseloring can help us with the grief that comes with the loss of our own identity, and help with rebuilding it. It is important for all of us to make sure that we are keeping aware and certain about the identity we want for our future, because it can change, even as the core of who we are remains the same.