Identity: Orphan

My name is Michelle Hanson, and I am an orphan.

Identity 1
Photo by Eric Garcia Photography

When I was 16 years old, my dad slipped into a coma from which he never woke up. Four months later, my mother lost her battle with colon cancer. Life as I knew it was forever changed.

If you passed me on the street, you wouldn’t know that I was an orphan. If you saw me with my friends at brunch, you would never guess that someone who can laugh so loudly and smile so much could also know the depths of loneliness that comes from loss. Some days, I want it to be that way- to blend in with the crowd of “normal” that only exists superficially. I don’t want you to look at me with sympathy, or even worse, that uncomfortable look of shock when you realize you have no idea the right way to say, “I’m sorry.”

Other days, I feel like the word “orphan” should be stamped across my forehead. The death of my parents shaped me, molded me into the person I am today. It’s hard to believe sometimes that the world doesn’t know what I’ve been through, hasn’t seen the times I’ve cried on my knees asking “why me?” How can they not know, how can they not see?

I’ve spoken to hundreds of crowds across the US, talking about the journey of my life, the meaning of loss to our hearts, and how the death of a loved one shapes our lives so profoundly. My father will never walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. My mother will never get to teach me how to hold my firstborn child. Neither of my parents even got to see me go to my first high school prom.

Loss. Pain. Regret. It would be so easy to be turned inside out with the pain, and believe me there are days where my heart is heavy with their memories. No one would have blamed me if I had gone down a dark path- lashed out at others or turned to destructive behaviors. But what about me? What about the dreams I had before grief hit me square in the heart? What about the friendships I want to make, the adventures I want to have, the every day moments? Was I supposed to give those up because death had arrived on my doorstep and taken the ones I loved?

Grief can smother us, dampen our spirits and cast a dark shadow on our lives. Do not doubt me when I say loss HURTS. As I write about the things I will never experience, tears stream down my face and my heart feels like it is made of stone. I owe it however to that little girl I once was, with the big dreams and the love of adventure, to remember that I am not defined by my loss. Grief is not who I am, and loss is not all that I will know in this life.

My identity is what I make it, defined by the limits I set on my heart. I have known pain, true. Loss has shaped my heart in ways that I never thought possible. Yet, my grief does not define me. It is a part of me, a part that lets me cherish those in my life who love fiercely and gives me compassion for those who don’t know how. Loss is a part of me, but it is not ALL of me.

“Orphan” does not mean empty. It does not mean fearful. It does not mean the end of my journey. My identity is what I make it. I am not defined by my loss, my memories, or my grief. I will always remember my parents, but I will also always remember me.

I am a product of loss. My name is Michelle Hanson, and I am an orphan.

-Michelle Hanson, Guest Blogger

Michelle Hanson is a Huffington Post published contributor, author, and speaker based in Dallas, TX. To learn more about her story, visit Michelle’s personal website at



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