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 our loss was recent, sudden or unexpected, we will most likely still feel in shock. We may feel like we’re living a bad dream or living another person’s life and be trying desperately to get back to our “old” life. The new year matters little. We get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, breathe and tell our story of what happened. Writing and talking about different aspects of what happened over and over may help, until we find we don’t need to tell the story in such detail anymore. Feeling a little numb or detached keeps us safe while we wake gradually to the reality that life and our world is not how we knew it or thought it would be.
Therese Rando, a noted grief therapist and author, describes grieving as a learning process. Each minute lived with our loved one taught our brain 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 learn that our loved one isn’t here and discover what that means for us. New challenges continue, bringing fresh pain even well into the grieving process.
If we have courageously worked with our grief over time, we may look to this new year with interest and wonder what it will hold for us. We might even feel eager to throw open our door and welcome this new year. The swelling around the wound of our loss has gone down some. We find comfort and joy in knowing we did all we could and that we loved well. We were enriched by our love and now know deeper compassion for all who suffer. We recognize life is a gift to enjoy with whoever crosses our path. We want to go and do and see for both of us what we’d hoped to do together. We don’t know details, have no assurance about what’s coming, but we hope for good.
Even if we’re scared and lonely and long for the past, we can still open the door a crack to this new year.
Tips to help face the upcoming new year:
- We begin by getting needed rest. If we’re still exhausted from caregiving or from acute grieving, we need to focus on physical recovery. We may need to talk with our doctor about how to rebuild ourselves physically.
- We also need to give ourselves mental rest. We can replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations about ourselves. We can soothe ourselves with music, prayer, uplifting literature, tears and laughter.
- We can notice any desires stirring within ourselves and find small practical ways to give ourselves new pleasure.
- We can get the support we need by attending a support group, by talking with friends and family who can listen to us and share our memories.
- We can seek spiritual support from a local minister, rabbi, priest, imam.
- Most important, we’ll find courage to live into the future, into the new year, by living in the present, one day at a time, doing the best we can to care for ourselves and others today.