“My loss doesn’t define me.”

Over and over I have heard this nugget of wisdom repeated by people who have lost a child. It pops up in memoirs, interviews, blog posts, and even in discussion with other grieving parents. Spouting this line seems to be viewed as something to be applauded; a sign of defiant bravery in the face of horrible tragedy. But could it possibly be true?

I understand why people like to say it. It gives them the sense that they have taken control of a life which has been horribly altered by events out of their control. And I also understand why people like to hear it said.  It makes them feel that, should they ever experience the unspeakable, they too will be able to get through it intact and without losing the essence of who they are. But you know what? As nice as it sounds it just isn’t true.

The reality is that we who have experienced great loss will never be the same as we were prior to our loss. We may continue the relationships, careers, and hobbies that we had before our loss, but never in the same way that we would have had we never woken one day to see the sky fall down upon us. If our loss doesn’t define us, it certainly becomes a large part of the new definition of who we are.

And you know what? That’s okay. Part of coming to terms with loss is accepting that, in addition to losing your loved one, you have also lost the person you were before. Once you do that you can then begin to make the most of your new life, one which, if not defined by your loss, nevertheless exists in the shadow of it.