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Roles they played in your life

When you lose a loved one, i.e., sibling, spouse, child, etc., you do not just lose the person, but the role they played in your life.  This can become compounded depending on the age at the time of death and the manner in which they died. 


When I refer to roles, what I specifically mean are the unspoken aspects that the deceased person did without question, and your life was enriched therefrom.  For example, they were your best friend, your companion, the person who paid all the household bills, the person who cooked, cleaned, shopped, did laundry, travel companion, movie companion, cut your hair, landscaped, ran errands, etc.


Therefore, many of the roles do not become apparent at the time of death because a person is often in shock. 


When a person trying to be helpful says to the bereaved, “Please call me anytime should you need anything.”  More than likely the person will not receive a call.  The friend or family member does have the right intentions, but the message is not understood by the intended recipient; because the grieving person is incapable of articulating their needs as all the lost roles do not become immediately apparent. 


The best thing to do to assist a bereaved person is to analyze and think about a role they lost.  Meaning if you are at their house and know the person loves milk and does not see milk in the refrigerator - go and buy milk.  A supermarket is a frightening place after the loss of a loved one because it is full of items that will trigger memories and emotions.  If you see laundry piling up, do it.  If you see trash overflowing, ask a neighbor when garbage removal is and just take it to the curb.


Lost roles are another reason why after a traumatic death the surviving family members often take longer to grief. In addition to the death, they may lose their house, electricity, water, phone, cable, car, because it may not occur to them that now they have to make the payments.  For the surviving person lost roles are not confined to the funeral, and the first week, they carry on.  Another way to help is to think long term and how certain things may now need attending too.


Lost roles are not confined to the funeral and surrounding rituals. It has been over ten years since I lost my brother.  I find myself suddenly flooded with emotions.  My brother’s birthday was this week; I think he would have been around 35.  I say think because I no longer pay attention to my age (age will be another topic).  However, the reason lost roles are on my mind today is because Hurricane Irma is heading to Florida.  My brother was alive for hurricanes Andrew (92) and Wilma (05).  I remember how he helped prepped the house.  Most importantly I remember how instrumental he was in the clean-up. 


I now find myself in a situation where I need and want my brother.  I want his role of hurricane protector.  My husband has been trying to fill that role.  He is doing an excellent job. Nevertheless, I am full of emotions, my stomach like the hurricane is unstable. I am afraid of the hurricane taking away the last gift my brother gave to me.  I know the gift is a material possession, but it contains a sentimental value.  I am also afraid that the hurricane will destroy the cemetery where my brother and all grandparents are.


In February of 2018, I will be one of the speakers on the Journey of Hope and Bereavement Cruise.  I will be discussing lost roles and how to find people to fill them.  I will also be discussing future fears and how to try to prepare mentally.


For more information on the cruise, please visit    


© Robyn Faust Gabe, Ph.D. 2017

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