The journey of grief: shaping personal identity

June 5, 2024

Photo by Jeremy Perkins at Pexels

Jack-Quwarn Francis-Manu explores ways of understanding and navigating loss

I start this guide with an extract from my short story ‘Becoming One with the Stars’.

“I’m ready to let you go.”

He felt a light breeze across his face, staring into his hazelnut eyes.

“I’m always with you, no matter where you go.”

Christopher turned back to the stars, slowly closing his eyes.

“Happy birthday brother, I still miss you every second. We’re twins for life, a bond that transcends death. I’ll carry your love with me forever, you’ll always be my North Star.”

His voice trembled as he finished his sentence, feeling a tear roll down from his eye. He wiped it clean and stood up, his eyes shifting to the flowers on the grave. There were bouquets of all kinds, an array of colours lighting up his vision. It felt magical, giving him a sense of ease. Standing tall before him was a headstone engraved with his brother’s name and a sentence that lay beneath it.

“I wish to be a pilot so I can be one with the stars.”

The sides of his lips curled into a smile, reading it in his head. He took the coin from his hand and reached out towards the flowers, his fingers shaking as he got closer. He placed it next to them and felt a breeze flow across his face which caused him to lift up his head. The stars were shining tonight, comforting him in his affliction.

You can check out the full story here.

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In this article, I’ll be taking a look at the connection between grief, meaning and loss. I’ll explore the transformative power that it holds and its role in shaping a person’s identity and purpose.

What is grief?
Grief is defined as the natural response to loss that can appear in various ways. Grief is typically seen after the loss of a loved one, but can also manifest when we lose a job, our health declines, or if we lose our a home.

For many people, grief is viewed as something to be avoided or feared, as the inevitable pain and emotion can be overwhelming for a person to bear. It can lead people to ask difficult questions that don’t have answers. They often experience frustration and rejection, becoming unsure of who they are and what their purpose is in the world.

Loss affects people in a multitude of ways. It triggers a range of feelings such as guilt, anger, upset or numbness. The emotional turmoil often results in people trying to distance themselves from the emotional intimacy of vocalising their pain and being open about how they are feeling at that moment in time.

It can also distort a person’s sense of self. They may feel as if their role of being a mother, husband, sister or friend has been taken away from them. This can lead to confusion and a belief that they’ve lost their worth as their identity was wrapped up in this role.

In the journey of moving forward, people often reference the five stages of grief. Typically, they are understood as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You can check out more about this here.

These five stages are not set in stone. As people experience grief differently the process isn’t always linear. It can be a staircase, but it can also be like a rollercoaster where you have moments of constant up and down.

Redefining identity
Through their grief, people are presented with an opportunity for self-reflection. It allows for healing and a restoration of a person’s inner being.

By embracing change people often find themselves taking on new responsibilities and creating new relationships. They may find a source of strength that helps them through this, supporting them to adjust to a new normal without their loved one.

“Change is never easy but always possible.” This quote from Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, speaks about embracing change. He believes that it’s vital for progressing and discovering new opportunities. Check out more here.

Journaling can help a person to understand their emotional journey and the experiences that they’re going through. It can help a person to be aware of how their feelings impact them and the people around them.

Journaling also serves as a way of honouring a loved one, writing about memories and ways they made you proud. A former American football player, Inky Johnson stated that after his life changing injury, journaling helped him to find clarity and stay focused in his recovery, a tool he still uses today. Check out more here.

Support network
Being with and around people who understand what you’re going through can help guide you through your grief. Family, friends, therapy or counselling can be resources that help a person navigate their journey of self-discovery to find solace.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” This is a quote from Oprah Winfrey, who emphasises the importance of mentors as those who serve as a support and allow you to see the hope inside yourself. Mentors play a vital role in your personal growth and help create meaningful connections. Check out more about the power of a mentor here.

Personal growth can come in many forms, displayed in maturity, resilience and strength. However, it also shows that it is okay to be vulnerable as part of the healing process. Ultimately, there is no set end date for grief. It comes and goes in waves, becoming a part of a person’s life that they learn to live with, shaping their identity along the way.

Jack-Quwarn is currently studying BTEC Sport, Sociology, and Psychology. He's passionate about reading, creative and informative writing, as well as sports.

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