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Grief in a New Year

Article title "Grief in a New Year"

Happy New Year! In the saying and hearing of those familiar words, I’m reminded of my niece, Hannah, and her first-hand encounter with that phrase. When Hannah was a youngster, my sister had planned a small celebration for their family to welcome the new year at the stroke of midnight. Hannah was excited to be involved in the preparations for the fun and determined to stay awake. The family celebration began as planned when the clock struck midnight. Wide awake, Hannah watched as the ball dropped in Times Square and then joined her parents in shouts of “Happy New Year!” Hannah jumped up and down, excitedly giggling in her celebration. Suddenly, Hannah stopped and, looking very seriously at her parents, asked, “So what’s all this ‘Happy New Year’ about?”

Maybe that’s the question many people have been asking as we’ve moved into 2021. After all, we’re taking much of 2020 right with us when we’d rather leave it behind. Isn’t that just the way it goes?
But, a new year gives us an opportunity to take stock of where we’ve been and what has happened, as well as giving us an opportunity to set our sights on what’s ahead.

No matter how we move into the new year, we carry with us remnants of the year past. Those remnants may mean lessons learned and a welcomed opportunity to live into them, but they may also mean taking along the heartache of loss that weighs down and casts a shadow on the newness of the year ahead.

Grief, our carrying the heartache of loss, has no respect for a new year full of possibilities. Grief is only a constant reminder, no matter what year, of losses that change us forever.

So, how do we move into the new year, carrying our grief with us? How do we go forward, not encumbered by our grief, but embracing our grief and allowing it to help us gain new perspectives in living?

Let me share with you an eye-opening conversation I had with a dear friend. Elizabeth told me that when she was growing up, her grandmother always had a word for her whenever she ran into anything she didn’t think she could handle. Grandmother would always tell Elizabeth, “Just show up and try!” Wow! How’s that for sage advice?

Just show up and try. What does that have to do with carrying our grief? Only everything, as I see it.

Just show up and try. Make a decision to show up in this new year, to be present in each new day. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s the place to begin. As you carry your grief, the “just show up” part may be a consistent decision you have to make. Acknowledge the past, but live in the present. The “and try” part isn’t going to be easy either. This is where you’ll have to take a risk or two in discovering who you are in the present. This is where you figure out how to honor and celebrate your loss and carry it with you in a way that gives you a warm blessing rather than a dreaded memory that you’re really trying to hold on to.

Before you go into the “and try” part, let me point a few things so that you aren’t caught off guard:

  • It’s okay to feel foggy or crazy or distracted or forgetful because you will be. Any number of things, emotional and physical, can be attributed to your grief brain. Go ahead “and try” anyway.
  • You will be let down. Many people aren’t good at talking about pain, and people letting you down won’t be intentional. Be open to the surprise that your biggest supporter may come from the most unlikely place.
  • Sometimes you will cry in public, even on your best days. It is okay. One day you just may come to realize that your tears of sadness have become tears of sweet memory and gratitude.
  • Being alive is sometimes painful for the living, and the pain of loss may seem overwhelming. Living in grief is difficult. Take your time and be good to yourself.

Okay, now go ahead “and try.” Take it slowly if you need to, or jump right in if that works best for you. The point is simply to try to be present in each new day in whatever way works for you.

As we enter this new year, there is also an opportunity for us to be supporters of those who are grieving. “Just show up and try” is also a good word for those who desire to be a supporter of those learning to live with a loss. Supporting someone in their grief is a sacred rite, but there are a few things to remember as you offer support:

  • You have the capacity to be an amazingly supportive person, but you do not possess anything that makes you an expert on someone else’s pain. Listen and be present.
  • Be sincere about what you can offer. This will be good for both of you to know.
  • Think about ways of encouraging small steps of joy. When we’re grieving, being alive hurts. A phone call, a card, or a shared walk may just be the small step someone needs to make a difference in their day.
  • Stand strong. For one who is grieving, any interaction may be a question of survival and reliving the pain. Be there for the griever because they may get tired of being let down. People have good intentions but often have poor follow-through. Be someone on whom they can depend.

Well, Happy New Year! As we all embark on a new journey in 2021, remember that no one has to go it alone. At Hospice & Community Care, we’d be honored to support you in your journey. Together, we can all “just show up and try” to help each other make this new year be the best it can be!

Lee Ann Livingston
Spiritual Care Provider

January 4, 2021

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