When we lose a companion from our lives, the shock or grief can disconnect us from our very sense of self. My husband’s recent passing, raised many questions. Who am I without this person? How do I fill this “spouse-shaped” space within me? How does daily life continue without him? How do I survive without this partner?

There I have it. My own identity and perhaps my very survival is in question. That is a shadow of change I somehow didn’t see coming.

Perhaps this blindness to such shifts in my fundamental sense of self arose because his survival of chronic illness had become intertwined over a long time with my own survival and evolving identity as a caregiver? Caregiver was an identity that I assumed reluctantly and only came to appreciate as an “ashram of compassion” that could expand my very underdeveloped capacities for compassion. That was an unexpected gift to me who so deeply desires to honour and live by the Master Code: To care for self, others, place and planet.

Now I remember that this kind of deep caring is intimately bound with our very sense of aliveness. And I recall the first quality of “aliveness” is the ability to survive. With my partner over 40 years, I had figured that out – both in health and in sickness. I had a life. He had a life. And we had a life together.

But now that he is gone, two parts of that equation have disappeared – his life and our life together.

I wasn’t prepared for the impact that would have on the first part of that equation – my life, and my identity.  These profoundly personal losses of relationship call me to redefine my very identity – and in doing so ripple through my every capacity to live the Master Code.

My loss and my grief have downsized my world. The tension between who I was before the loss and who I am now and who I may become is dissonant and stressful.  Do I feel the roots of what could become a vicious circle? Stress can destroy capacity – not just the capacity to survive myself, but the ability to support and care for others, place and planet.  I feel myself downshifting the size of the world I can care for – just to survive.

At the same time my identity feels assailed on a sea of doubt. It would be easier to sink out of sight and withdraw from my commitment to aliveness. I catch my breath at that prospect. Finding a new sense of identity that can float on this sea (of doubt, stress or misgivings) calls for a buoyancy that I am not sure I can supply myself.

But the miracle of the Master Code, is that others in my environments of place and planet are strong enough to throw me the life preservers of care. Some days they are the flotation devices of meals or walks. Other days of visits and entertainment. When I am stronger of conversation and dialogue. And when I can keep my head above water the life preserver even looks like a mirror of reflection.

Slowly a new sense of identity for my life is emerging. Now I can catch glimpses of a new self. With different relationships to others. And those relationships are changing my relationships to place and planet. I am observing these opportunities are not just about my self-survival of an identity crisis but nurturing gifts for growing generative relationships together.

They inspire me to hope that in the not too distant future my own buoyancy capacities will be restored so that I can become a caring flotation device for others (and then place and planet).