Life after loss: “All the plans I’d put in place for 37 years of my life had all gone”
28th Dec 2020
In grief, everything looks the same and yet it’s all utterly changed. Niamh Ennis on her experience with grief and the importance of acknowledging that your life will never be the same.
When someone you love dies your view on the direction your life is going changes. Things that mattered before don’t quite matter in the same way. Your life becomes split into the time you had with them and the time you’ve been enduring since they left.
For some, this can be temporary, but for so many of us, it can result in never quite looking at life through the same lens again. It’s where the useful piece of advice “not to make any big life-changing decisions the first year after losing someone” came from. It is really good advice but it shouldn’t ever stop you from considering the options that are calling to you.
I knew pretty much within the first year of losing my fiancé that I was going to have to make some tough life decisions. It felt at times that these would indeed be necessary for my own survival. But I also knew it because the plans I’d put in place, for the first 37 years of my life, had all gone out the window.
In my own case, I had to slowly accept that my hopes of being a mum were most likely gone. That in itself took some time to wrap my head around, but so too did acknowledging that all the things I’d taken for granted, and believed were inevitable for me, now seemed very much out of my reach.
As I tried to process my new reality, I lost my gorgeous Dad. With only six weeks to prepare for his death, I knew this bereavement was going to affect me differently, but just as intensely. I just didn’t know how much at that time.
Who are you without them?
Grieving the man I had loved from birth, at the same time as the man I was banking on being with until death, left me feeling very stuck in the middle. Both these relationships represented the two anchor points in my life, my past and my future, and without them, I was adrift.
The safety blanket, the father who I knew always had my back, whose love I never once questioned was gone. I simply wasn’t sure who I was without him.
I’d never thought about that while he was alive, mostly because I had never seriously considered what it would mean, or feel, like to lose him. As over-the-top as this might sound, I know for sure that nobody will ever, or has ever, loved me quite the way my dad did.
Unconditionally, without question and with unwavering support for any of my regular madcap ideas or mistakes, he’d just always been there to pick up the pieces. We didn’t express or verbalise our mutual love, men of his generation just didn’t, but from the time I knew what it was like to feel loved, I felt it from him.
Each time I feel sad that he’s not here, which happens quite a lot, I remind myself of how fortunate I was to have a dad who made his daughter feel so protected, minded, cherished and loved. I’m one of the lucky ones. I do know that.
My fiancé’s death, in contrast, represented the loss of all the plans we had made together. Having spent almost 10 years together we could not have been accused of rushing up the aisle but we were finally ready and planned our dream wedding in Spain. With just 6 months to go, he received a sudden cancer diagnosis and died 10 days later.
The future together that we had planned alongside all of my own personal dreams also left that morning with him.
Who was I without either of these men? If I didn’t have a past and I couldn’t visualise my future, then who on earth was I?
This is grief in its full rawness, trying to settle into your new place in the world, without that person who has died. Your identity takes a battering and yet you’re expected to continue on living and stepping into a life that no longer feels safe or familiar.
It’s why we feel the need to consider a different life, not because we are running away but because we need to create a different space so that we can breathe again, be ourselves again, and not have the reminders constantly pointing to what and who is missing.
Changing with intention
Some years later, this resulted in me changing everything; including my career, where I lived, who I spent the most time with, how I lived my life every day and doing so much more of what actually mattered to me.
I was most fortunate to go on some years later and met another wonderful man, my now-husband, who I’m building a new and different future with. I’m very grateful that I was ready to create a space that enabled this to happen.
So if you’re grieving, then please don’t feel under pressure to be the same person you were before they died. Equally don’t try immediately to change everything. Sit with your grief, process it, and let it consume you, which it must, then when you feel ready to begin, create the space you’ll need to start asking of yourself, “what’s next?”.
Trust that the answers will come. Take baby steps, prepare to stumble and even make some mistakes along the way. Just know that while your life has changed, you don’t need to stay surrounded by all of the painful reminders.
Then start making some decisions that reflect what matters most to you now. Ask yourself, “who am I now that my life has changed?” and let the answer guide you to what feels right. For you.
Little by little we let go of the loss but we never, ever, let go of the love.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Specialist. If you feel drained and empty right now then Niamh is hosting a deeply nourishing online workshop RELEASE & RECEIVE for just €11 on 11.1.21. This unique event will assist you in letting go of all that didn’t serve you in 2020 so that you can welcome in all that inspires you for your new year. Click here to secure your space.
Read more: Friendship fallout in a pandemic: “I realised that nobody had picked up the phone to see how was I doing”
Read more: If 2020 is the year of doing nothing, why has it felt so exhausting?
Read more: “I declared openly which of the seven stages of grief I was experiencing. Only I lied. Inside, I was in fact falling apart.”
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