Every person on this planet has an identity, but when you think of yourself, what do you think identifies you as a person?
Some identities are created by others while some we create ourselves. While the two could differ, they may not entirely be independent of each other. The truth is, they work together to create a vast and complicated map of what makes a person.
When I would identify myself, I was the girl from Michigan, the girl with crazy brown hair, the girl who loved soccer and music, the girl that loved animals as much as humans, and the girl that wanted to see the world. My identity was mixed and matched with all of my experiences, and I was secure in those personalities.
At our cores, we are so much more than what we look like and where we come from. We define ourselves above and beyond the obvious and add to our complex identity. Even when classifying our friends we have terms for them like “the girl that works out a lot,” “the friend that always says something funny,” or “the one with the super cute kid.”
Then one day, I added a new identity to the list: the girl whose dad died.
In 2008, I was home from college for my winter break when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. In a matter of minutes, my life went from somewhat reasonable to something I didn’t know how to deal with.
At the age of 20, I wasn’t sure what would happen next. I had never experienced a significant loss like this one before. There was no roadmap or guidebook to help me grasp the loss of my dad, and I was utterly lost. The girl I was before that day seemed like a distant past, and at that moment, I was just the girl whose dad died.
At that moment my identity went from a vast array of different personalities to one, and I was imposing that identity on myself.
In the year following his death, everything I did seemed to be about how I was going to navigate my grief over my dad’s death. I was angry at what happened and felt like the victim. How could life be so unfair that it could take my dad away from me? I found myself using my grief as my sole compass for my decisions. It changed how I interacted with others, what music I listened to, and even what I chose to focus on in school.
The reality was that I had put all other pieces of my identities in a box and focused only on the one identity that felt most natural and without even realizing it, I was beginning to exhaust myself and isolate myself.
But buried beneath the rubble was still the soccer-loving world traveler that I once was. After surviving the first anniversary of his death, I finally realized that things needed to change. I started to realize that my entire life was defined by how I felt about his death and I was giving into something that was completely out of my control. I had defined myself by what had happened to me instead of who I was.
Once I realized that my dad’s death had defined my entire life, I started to understand that I was bringing myself and others down. I promised myself to no longer let that be how I identified myself. I would no longer be the girl whose dad died.
Coming to this conclusion felt like I could finally breathe again as if I had come to the surface and filled my lungs with the sweet air that I had been long craving. It felt like I had lifted over a year’s worth of weight from my shoulders.
I was so much more than that singular identity.
I was still the girl that loved animals as much as people. I was always the girl with the crazy brown hair. I was still the girl that loved soccer. I just had to make the conscious decision to focus on those identities instead of the one I had been giving myself over to during the previous year.
It has been years since I concluded that I was more than the girl whose dad died and of course I still miss my dad, but I miss him in a way that does not put my life on hold. I am more focused and driven than I ever have been before, and I am adding to my list of identities. I can’t wait to see what new ones I add in the years that come.
Take a step back to check in with yourself and be grateful for the identities that make you, you.If you are going through a hard time, it is always good to take time to grieve your loss, but remember that your loss does not define you. It is merely a part of the many pieces of you.