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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Tidd

Dealing With a HUGE Secondary Loss: You

Last week I was on my walk and listening to an old Oprah interview that she's now recycling on her podcast, Super Soul Sunday. This topic was on "Finding Your Authentic Self," something that's a pretty common topic, but was probably not so mainstream back in 1998.

During the interview, the guest - Sarah Ban Breathnach - announced that she had died twice in her life and I immediately rolled my eyes. She elaborated about those "deaths" - one of which was after her divorce. Sorry, but I initially felt like it was a little cheesy.

As I kept walking, I started wishing I could take back my eye roll (which no one else knew about until now) because I've often said something similar myself - that after the death of a spouse, we're not the same person. So, in a way, we HAVE died.

I started thinking, "What if we actually treated it that way? That the person we were had actually died?" And then I started going down the "what if" rabbit hole.


If the person we were had died after the death of our spouse, we would take time to mourn that person. I actually think we do, but we don't really know it and, therefore, we're not as forgiving about it. Admit it - WE MISS WHO WE USED TO BE. We miss the person we were before we knew the deep heartache of this loss and, just like our spouses, that person will never come back. Yes, we will remember ourselves and better times - just like we have valuable memories of our spouses - but that's what they are. We're left with memories of who we once were.


If the death of our pre-loss self is something that we and everyone around us could treat as a death, we might be more forgiving of ourselves and others. We might recognize that we need time to allow that loss to heal as much as it possibly can and forgive the moments that will always be raw. We'll treat others around us with understanding as well because, just like the loss of a spouse, we would recognize that they don't really know what it's like to go through this, their intentions are still good. We would allow ourselves the space to go through some of the feelings of mourning - anger, denial, useless bargaining - because we would know that losing who we were is almost as big as the loss of our spouse. And it's something we carry with us every day.


This might actually be the epiphany that struck me the most: We would know that, just as our spouses wanted us to move forward in life, our old self would want nothing but joy for the new self. Our old self would wish us the best of everything and be so compassionate about what this new self is dealing with. I can actually picture my old self tearing up and saying, "I'm so sorry about what you're dealing with and I wish I could make it better. Remember that a part of me will always be with you." Think - just think - about your old self watching you as you navigate this life. When I think of that, my old self is astounded and proud of what I've accomplished (even though the path isn't always perfect).

So, sorry for my eye roll, Sarah Ban Breathnach. I'm learning that my new self is probably more judge-y than my old self. My new self will definitely start using my old self as a better role model.

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