Facing the New Year when You are Bereaved

Accepting the New Year

When we are grieving, it is hard enough to live each day as it comes. It can be daunting to face a whole new year stretching out in front of us. We may be afraid of what the new year might bring. We may worry whether or not we can handle any more challenges. Our current experience of emptiness and loneliness may make us reluctant to face a new year.

We might say to ourselves, “I used to be so busy. I used to feel so needed, so useful. Now it seems there’s nothing but empty space and empty time.” It’s bad enough to wake in the morning not sure what we’ll do with the day; what will we do with a whole year?

Longing to recover the past can sometimes make us resistance to accepting the new year. The past was where we were comfortable, where we felt safe, felt good. Grief burdens us today and we fear the new year won’t hold anything different for us. We pine for the person we miss and the precious past we shared. We think about how it was, and wish we were back there.

Approach of a new year may mean different things for different mourners. Whether we welcome, dread or ignore a new year probably depends on where we are in our grief process. The question is not whether, but how grief will show up, and how we’ll work with it.

A Learning Process

If your loss was recent, sudden or unexpected, you might experience it as a shock, as if you're living a bad dream or someone else's life, trying desperately to get back to your “old” life. The last thing on your mind might be the challenge of a new year. Writing or talking repeatedly about the death of your loved one might make you feel numb or detached. Eventually, you might realize that your life is not what you thought it would be, that your world has changed.

Therese Rando, a noted grief therapist and author, describes grieving as a learning process. Each minute with a loved one created patterns of how to operate and what to expect. Each new challenge, like doing the taxes, fixing things, and going into a new year, becomes a fresh occasion to accept the absence of your loved one and find new ways to cope, even if new challenges bring fresh pain.

As you courageously work through your grief over time, you eventually will find the strength to look to the new year with interest and wonder about what it might hold. Maybe you'll feel eager to welcome change, now that your grief has started to ease.

You might find comfort and joy in knowing that you did all that you could and loved well. Enriched by the love you once enjoyed, you can now show deeper compassion for all who suffer. You eventually will recognize life as a gift to enjoy with whomever crosses you path. In time, you might want to do on your own what you both once hoped to accomplish together.

Even if you're scared and lonely, and even if you long for the past, you can still open the door a crack to this new year.

Tips to face the new year:

  • Begin by getting needed rest. If you're still exhausted from caregiving or from acute grieving, focus on physical recovery. Considering talking with your doctor about how to rebuild yourself physically.
  • Give yourself a mental rest. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations about yourself, and soothe yourself with music, prayer, uplifting literature, tears and laughter.
  • Pay attention to hope and desire. Find small practical ways to give yourself new pleasure.
  • Attend a support group or talk with friends and family members who can list and share memories.
  • Seek spiritual support from a local minister, rabbi, priest, imam.
  • Find courage to live into the future by living in the present, one day at a time. Do the best you can to care for yourself and others today.

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