After Loss: Rediscovering my Mom in Motherhood

Mom Loss Motherhood

In what ways do you feel connected to your mom?

One of my favorite memories of my mother probably isn’t one she would want me sharing as often as I do, but it so perfectly sums her up that I can’t help but revisit it.

In the memory, I’m about thirteen years old. We’re living in Destin, Florida and we’re headed to the mall. I am an only child and my mother and I are close. Things I love to do with her: hang out in the kitchen while she cooks, hang out in the bathroom while she gets ready for an evening out, and go shopping with her.

All of those are pretty basic mom-daughter activities, I know, except my mom wasn’t your basic mom. She was messy and creative, uncommonly beautiful, and stylish in an utterly head-turning way. She was also incredibly outgoing and quick-witted, and she brought so much wild beauty into the lives of my father and myself that it’s a wonder we weren’t blinded by it all.

Oh, and did I mention impulsive? She was that too.

So, this one afternoon we’re driving around the mall parking lot, looking for the perfect spot. My mom had this thing about finding a perfect spot. And suddenly it happened: a car started pulling out of this tiny stretch of coveted spaces right in front of the entrance.

My mom yanks the wheel, turning us into the one-way parking aisle, and snaps on her blinker. Then she turns and gives me this smile of wonder and pride. But as the exiting car backs out towards us, another car suddenly zips into the parking aisle from the wrong direction and puts on its blinker too.

I watch my mother’s eyes widen. “That woman is NOT going to steal my space,” she mutters. She then makes some desperate hand-waving gesture at the other driver, receiving only a catty shrug in return. We watch together as the original car backs out of its space and then as the other waiting car pulls in before we have a chance to.

My mother’s jaw drops. Her grip visibly tightens on the wheel, and her mouth closes into a hard line. She pulls up behind the newly-parked car and lowers her window. I am pensive in my seat, scared but also excited by this unfolding of events. A woman emerges from the car and begins to walk towards us.

“You just stole our parking space,” my mother says tersely, “and this is a one-way.”

“Yeah, well too bad,” the woman replies. She flips her hair over one shoulder and walks right past our idling car.

My mother is so stunned that she just sits there for a moment. And then she throws the car into gear and drives quickly to an open parking spot near the back of the lot. “Come on,” she says through her teeth, practically yanking me from the car, and we fast-walk towards the mall.

Inside the doors my mother heads straight for a candy shop that sits adjacent to the food court.

“Mom,” I plead, “what are we doing?”

But she doesn’t answer. All she does is depress the lever on a large dispenser of gumballs, and I watch as the colorful orbs pop out and into a plastic bag she holds open. She is hardly finished paying for them before she thrusts several into my hand.

“Chew,” she instructs, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the entrance of the mall again.

As we walk, I slide the gumballs over my tongue, my mouth instantly smarting with their sweet flavor. In less than a minute we are outside in the parking lot again, the intense Florida heat shimmering off the cars around us. I follow my mother to the car that now sits in our coveted space, and I stand beside her, both of us furiously chewing our gum. I stare at our reflection in the window, my lanky adolescent figure timid next to her glamorous and stately one. In that moment I know that I will say yes to anything she will ever ask me to do.

“Okay, now smear,” she says, grinning at me, light dancing in her eyes.

Carefully I remove the giant wad of gum from my mouth, holding it between my thumb and index finger, and I watch my mother do the same. Then, working quickly, we spread them out across the windshield and driver’s side window. Within seconds we are done and walking away, leaving the gum to bake in the hot, afternoon sun. I let out a breath I hadn’t known as I was holding, and my mother does the same, except hers sounds more like a giggle.

Several months later my mother is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and five years later she is dead.

It’s now been over twenty years since I’ve held her hand or heard her voice. In that time I’ve grown into a woman. I’ve traveled the world, gotten married, and become a writer. But all these years, through everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve gone, there’s been the sense that something is missing. There’s always been this little (and sometimes not so little) space inside my heart.

But then nine years ago my daughter Veronica was born. And three years after that my second daughter Juliette was born.

And in the moments and days and hours and months that have occurred since their births, I have become a mother.

And in this wildly unexpected way, I feel as though I have been given my mother back. Time and time again I hear her voice in mine, I feel her hand in mine. She is there with me when I’m teaching Vera how to bake cookies, or when I’m up in the middle of the night, tending to my smallest.

It’s not even that I feel like she’s been given back to me, but that my mother has been given to me anew. I understand her in a way I never did before. I see her in a way I never did. When I tuck my girls into bed at night, when I smooth Vera’s hair away from her forehead when she has a fever, or scoop Juliette into my arms after a tumble, my heart spilling over for them, I often find myself breathless with the realization of just how much my mother loved me.

They will never know her the way I did. They will never call her grandma or experience any of her mischievous adventures. They will never get care packages in the mail from her or cook with her in the kitchen as I did. But they will know her in the way that I love them, in the way that I see them and hear them and name them.

It’s funny the stories that stay with us. To this day I refuse to look for the perfect spot in any parking lot, always preferring to park in the back, no matter how far the walk. And in all these years, no matter how much I have tried to emulate her, I have not become my mother. I would never dream of smearing gum across a stranger’s windshield, no matter their misdeed against me. I am also not nearly as messy, nor as beautiful, as my mother was.

But she lives within me somewhere in a very real way. And I know that each of these moments and days works to create a world in which my girls will carry me within themselves as they move forward in their lives, no matter what lies ahead.

Love,
Claire

P.S. If you'd like to know when my 6-week online grief program opens registration again, sign up here.


How to Spend Mother’s Day After Loss

Mother's Day Loss

Today I want to talk about Mother's Day. This holiday can be an incredibly painful one for those of us who have lost our mothers. The constant ads, social media posts, and gift and card offerings in every shop are a constant reminder that our mothers are no longer with us. It can all strike a nerve even if you never cared about it much before losing your mother—I've heard from plenty of clients and friends that they feel quite tortured by all the prolific Mother's Day declarations after loss.

So here are a few things I want you to keep in mind as you head into this year's Mother's Day.

  1. Know that you are not alone. There are so many of us out here who are grieving our mothers during this holiday right alongside you. There are Motherless Daughters support groups in most major cities and many of them hold gatherings around Mother's Day. It can be very healing to be with a group of women who understand you. Check this list of events on Hope Edelman's page and see if there is something nearby.
  2. Be intentional about how you want to spend the day. If it feels good to ignore the day altogether and go to the movies, do that. If you would like to celebrate the day then you should feel free to embrace that as well. Either way, be gentle with yourself.
  3. Just because your mom is not here anymore doesn't mean you can't honor her. Buy a bouquet of her favorite flowers. Go to her favorite brunch spot, or cook something she liked. Post a photo of her on social media and write a remembrance of her.
  4. Write your mother a letter telling her how much you love her and fill her in on your life since she's been gone.
  5. Talk to friends and loved ones about your mom. Share your own stories or ask them to share some with you.
  6. Remember that every year feels different. If this year is particularly hard for you it doesn't mean it will always feel this way.

Our mothers will always be part of us, whether they are physically here or not. Let yourself connect with your mom this year on Mother's Day, and remember that you are not the only one out there who is feeling a multitude of emotions on this holiday. This Mother’s Day I will be honoring my mom and be spending lots of time with my girls.

In addition, I am now offering a self-guided online course, A Safe Place to Grieve and One-time Grief ConsultationsIf you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at contact@clairebidwellsmith.com

Love,
Claire


birthdays holidays anniversaries loved ones claire bidwell smith

Honoring Holidays, Anniversaries & Birthdays for Loved Ones


There are so many difficult dates after you lose someone you love. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays - there seems to be one around every bend, and each one brings on its own set of emotions. In the twenty years since my parents died I've experienced a multitude of reactions to these dates and some years are more painful than others. I can never be quite sure which dates will hold big emotions for me, and which ones will float under the surface quietly. But what I do know is that it helps me to do something to honor my parents on the dates that hold intense feelings for me.

For my father's ten year death anniversary I took a private flight lesson in a tiny Cessna. My father had been a pilot in the war and flying was a great love of his. For me, piloting this little airplane over the coast of Los Angeles ten years after his death, helped me feel closer to him than I had in years. I knew he would have loved the way my heart pounded as we ascended into the clouds and that he would have been proud of all the strength and resilience I'd found in the years since he'd been gone.

And after my daughters were born I began a ritual of making a cake with them each year on my mother's birthday. We use my mom's old mixer and measuring cups and spoons, and as we bake I tell them stories about how I used to bake with her. The whole act invokes her presence, not just for me, but for my daughters who never knew her in real life. After we're done we even light candles and sing to her, and hearing my mother's name on the lips of my daughters' never fails to fill my heart.

There are so many ways to ritualize and honor our passed loved ones. When we find ways to do so it creates healing and a sense of connection that is otherwise missing. Cook something they loved or make a reservation at their favorite restaurant. Plant flowers or indulge in a hobby they enjoyed. Watch their old favorite movie, gather friends or family for a meal and to share memories, or simply light a candle by their photo and say hello. (Check out Allison Gilbert's book Passed and Present for even more ideas.)

Additionally, I offer a self-guided online grief program: A Safe Place to Grieve. The program is based on the process I use every day with my grief therapy clients. You are guided through six sections using my meditations and videos, workbook, journal, emails and more.

Our hearts yearn to stay connected to the people we have lost. Honor that yearning, honor your relationship, and honor the love that you will always have for them.

Love,
Claire


kids grief claire bidwell smith

How to Help Kids with Grief and Loss

kids grief claire bidwell smith

Today I want to talk about kids and grief. Our children will inevitably experience loss. Sometimes it is directly – the loss of a friend or family member, and sometimes it is peripheral – witnessing a classmate lose someone or becoming aware of a national tragedy. Death is a complicated concept for children to comprehend. They feel it on a visceral, emotional level, but they are not quite able to understand it on a cognitive level.

When we experience loss as adults we not only feel it deeply, but we take in the big picture in such a way that it makes the pain even sharper. Often children cannot even comprehend that they will truly never see the deceased person again. They are not able to foresee all that their lives will look like as a result of the loss, and cannot imagine the important milestones and life moments a deceased person will miss. Instead, children and adolescents are very much in the moment. What does it look like right now to have the person gone? What does it feel like in this moment?

The best thing you can do is meet them exactly where they are. Talking about the loss with them in very simple and direct terms is helpful. Taking time to answer their questions, even if sometimes you have to say, "I don't know" as a response is important. Use clear language and allow them the time to come and go from their own thoughts. Simply providing space for them to process it in whatever way they do is vital. Giving them permission to feel everything they feel and providing a non-judgemental space in which they can explore their thoughts will benefit them greatly.

Lastly, teaching them about ritual or helping them find ways to memorialize the person is incredibly helpful. Check out Allison Gilbert’s Passed and Present for creative ideas on memorializing objects belonging to loved ones.

And here is a list of some of my favorite children’s books that really help open up conversation and understanding around death:

The Elephant in the Room

Meet Me at the Moon

What's Heaven?

Where are you?

Lifetimes

The Invisible String

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

I know it can be intimidating to talk with your kids about grief. For some it can open up your own grief in ways you’re not ready to confront. For others it can be scary to not have all the answers. But again, simply providing space for them to process their own thoughts and fears provides enormous healing.

Love,

Claire


How Being Prepared for Death can Alleviate Anxiety

preparing for death

Today I want to introduce you to Amy Pickard and her company Good To Go. But before I tell you about her, let me tell you about what led me to her.

Experiencing so much loss in my life caused me a lot of anxiety about death (my forthcoming book is titled Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief), something that ramped up in particular after my first child was born. In the early days of my daughter's life I suddenly found myself fretting endlessly about what would happen if I died early, just as my mother had, leaving Vera without a mom. I thought about it obsessively to the point where I felt miserable. I didn’t want to think about death all the time; I had just had a baby, one of the most joyous experiences of my life! Eventually, I began to search for ways to alleviate this awful state I’d found myself in.

I knew that in order to do this I needed to face my anxiety head-on, which really meant facing death head-on. I asked myself the question: What if I do die early just like my mom? What could I put in place that would make me feel better? From writing letters to my daughters, to making some of my wishes known to friends, and taking out a life insurance policy, I literally started getting my affairs in order.

But what about all the other stuff? 

When I heard about Amy Pickard and Good to Go I knew I had my answer. Following the loss of her own mother, and having to sift through the logistical mess her mother left behind, Amy started her company. Her wish was that everyone leaves this world prepared, not just for themselves, but for the loved ones they’re leaving behind as well. In a Good to Go party Amy will actually come to your house and sit down with you and your family or friends and help walk you through everything you need to do to be prepared to leave your loved ones behind. And she does it with humor, booze, and a rock 'n' roll soundtrack to boot. Last summer I hosted a Good to Go party with Amy at my house. I invited about a dozen friends and was pleasantly surprised with how all of them took me up on the invite. The evening was informative, heartwarming, and ultimately healing.

Amy provides a Good to Go folder and packet that she walks you through and that you continue working on at your own pace. From computer passwords to medical wishes, favorite memories, and on who’s wrist you want your favorite watch to land, the packet covers everything you want your loved ones to know in your absence.

Even though I plan on living to be a grandmother, I feel so much less anxious knowing that even if I don't, my loved ones will be taken care of. Check out Amy and all she does at Good to Go.

Here are some questions for you to begin thinking about on your own. Take your time with them. Create your own Departure File, or reach out to a company like Amy’s who can assist you in this task.

In the Event of Your Own Death

  1. Do you have a will or advance directives?
  2. Do your loved ones know your funeral/memorial wishes?
  3. Do they know your burial/cremation wishes?
  4. Do you have a list of all of your accounts and passwords?
  5. Do your loved ones know where to find your legal documents (will, advance directives, birth certificate, marriage certificate, car, home or life insurance)?
  6. Have you assigned someone to manage your assets or be a co-signer on your bank accounts?
  7. Have you taken measures to protect your dependents financially?
  8. Is there anyone particular you would like notified about your death?
  9. Have you thought about what you would like to happen to your pets?
  10.  Are there personal belongings you wish to go to specific people?
  11.  Are there memories or advice you wish to pass to your loved ones?
  12.  Are there things you would like destroyed (i.e. journals and diaries)?
  13.  Is there anything comforting you can provide to your loved ones? For example, a letter telling them what you hope for them after you are gone.

Love,
Claire


healing loss of mother claire bidwell smith

Healing from the Loss of a Mother

healing loss of mother claire bidwell smith

I recently led a retreat with Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, so it seems only fitting that I talk about mother loss today.

My mom died of cancer when I was eighteen years old. She'd been a wonderful mother and we were incredibly close. Her death shattered life as I knew it, and forever changed who I would become.

In the last twenty years of her absence, I've learned an enormous amount about the effects of mother loss. I lived through my own experience of it and I've also worked with countless women on their own journeys. In my book The Rules of Inheritance, I wrote:

“Her death leaves me both depleted and emboldened. That's what tragedy does to you, I am learning. The sadness and wild freedom of it all impart a strange durability. I feel weathered and detached, tucking my head against the winds and trudging forward into life.”

While there is no sense in comparing different kinds of loss, I do know that mother loss has a long-lasting impact on a woman's sense of self, on her relationships (romantic, familial and fraternal), on her sense of self-worth, and on her ability to feel nurtured in the world, no matter how much support she may have around her.

Over the last few years of working so extensively with motherless daughters, I've seen myself mirrored in dozens of women. I've sat in rooms filled with these women and seen the same themes emerge over and over - depression, anxiety, fear of more loss, difficulty with attachments, control issues - but also positive themes like fortitude, resilience, independence, ambition, and empathy.

I've often found myself wishing that certain people in my life - family members or partners who have struggled to understand me in the face of my loss - could hear these rooms and understand that my feelings and issues are not abnormal; that I am part of a sisterhood I never asked to join, but with whom I now clasp hands in gratitude that we have found each other.

If you have lost your mom please know that you are not alone in missing her months, years, and even decades later. This loss comes with its own subset of varying impacts on your life. Seeking support and understanding around this loss is incredibly healing and rewarding. Pick up Hope’s book, work with me individually, or join us on a retreat (there’s one coming up on February 16 - 19 in Ojai, CA). It’s never too late to begin healing.

Love,
Claire


how long does grief last, stages of grief

How Long Does Grief Last?

How long does grief last | Claire Bidwell Smith

I've been thinking about the concept of grief and time lately. Probably because I always check in on where I am with my own grief during major milestones or fresh starts in my life. There are so many misconceptions about how long grief is supposed to last or not last. There are books and studies and reports and endless advice and opinions about what your grief should look like. But really, the only person who knows how long your grief should last is you.

Sometimes grief lasts a lifetime. It comes and goes and takes different shapes and it filters into different areas of your life. It goes to sleep for a while and then sometimes it returns after years of being gone. Sometimes we are grieving for only moments and sometimes we grieve for days and months.

For me, grief has been a dominant theme in my life, but it has not lasted forever. The losses themselves stay with me always - they shape and mold much of who I am. But grief itself is a more elusive creature. I have also grieved differently for the individual people I have lost. The grief I felt after my mother's death was not the same after my father's, nor after my friend's. There is no perfect formula for grieving that any of us could apply to our losses. I believe we must remember this, and that we must be kind and gentle with ourselves as we move through the process.

Anne Lamott writes, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Be patient with yourself as you grieve, and don’t let anyone but you tell you how long it should last.

Love,
Claire


anxiety grief, stages of grief

The Missing Stage of Grief: Anxiety

anxiety grief

*If you're interested in learning more about anxiety and grief, click here to learn more from my latest book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief*

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross debuted the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying, published in 1969, they were intended for people facing their own deaths. Kübler-Ross later went on to apply these same five stages to the bereaved, to people who had lost a loved one, but upon closer inspection, I’m not sure they work as well. Losing a loved one is not the same as losing your life. Grief thrusts us into an uncertain world where anxiety often reigns supreme. Yet anxiety is the very element missing from Kübler-Ross’ stages.

I had my first panic attack when I was 18. It happened on a road-trip the summer after my senior year of high school. My boyfriend was behind the wheel, driving toward Washington, D.C., and suddenly my heart did a funny flip-flop thing.

I unbuckled my seatbelt, flailing about for something to hold onto, and in between gasps, instructed my boyfriend to find an emergency room. For several months I’d been experiencing moments of breathlessness and lengthy episodes of heart pounding, but this time it felt different. As we hurtled toward the nearest exit, my heart took dramatic pauses, did jack-knives inside my chest and then cascaded into what felt like triple-beats. I was certain I was about to die.

Twenty minutes later I was hooked up to an EKG in a curtained-off portion of a hospital emergency room in Virginia. Beside me, my worried boyfriend murmured into the phone to my father as we watched, with rapt attention, my now-normal heartbeat creating perfect dips and arrows on the long, thin printout unspooling from the machine. Afterward, I sat on the exam table and answered the doctor’s questions.

Do you smoke? Yes.

Do you drink? Not really.

Do you do any drugs? No.

Take any medications? No.

Any history of heart problems? No.

Do you exercise? Fairly regular jogger.

The list went on and on. So far everything was pointing toward me being perfectly healthy, but I was determined to leave with an explanation. Instead, the doctor simply told me that I was among the one out of 10 people who experience heart palpitations. (And that I should quit smoking.)

As we drove away from the hospital, I stared out the window at the warm summer landscape, thinking about all the questions he didn’t ask.

Are you thinking of breaking up with your boyfriend? Yes.

Are you about to leave everything you’ve ever known behind and go off to college two thousand miles away? Yes.

Is your mother dying of cancer? Yes.

I was only 18, but that was old enough to feel painfully aware of the mind-body connection. Although I couldn’t define my problem in clinical terms, I knew that what was wrong with me might not be physical. I’m now certain that if the doctor had asked me just a few questions about my personal life, he could have easily identified my symptoms as a classic example of a panic attack.

My anxiety worsened six months later when my mother died. The panic attacks came with startling frequency, seemingly brought on by nothing at all. I could be pumping gas or lying in bed and suddenly the world would begin to swirl around me, my breath would thin out, and the only thing I felt sure of was that I was dying. But instead of dying, for the next three years I walked through my life paralyzed by debilitating anxiety. Sometimes I wished I would actually die rather than live in such a nervous state.

It’s now been close to 15 years since that ER visit, and I’ve become a therapist specializing in grief. When I look back on that time in my life, it’s easy for me to recognize how my anxiety was linked to the loss of my mother. In fact, anxiety is the most common symptom of grief that I see in my practice. But I also know that it’s often one of the most overlooked aspects of bereavement, so much so that I find myself constantly wishing that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had included anxiety as a stage and saved us all a lot of, well, grief.

In my experience, grieving individuals almost always gravitate to the five stages at one point or another. Many of my clients immediately begin to assess their current state in terms of where they are with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But while the stages were meant to be helpful, this is often where people begin to get confused. I don’t think I’m following the stages correctly, they’ll admit in a worried tone.

I don’t understand the bargaining part. I’ve been depressed for too long. I skipped the anger stage—is that okay? I don’t know where my anxiety fits in. These are the kinds of things I hear over and over again. In fact, I’ve heard them so often that I’ve now come to believe that when the five stages are applied to grief, bargaining should be replaced with anxiety.

When applied to a dying person, bargaining makes sense; following a terminal diagnosis there is often a sense of desperation, of pleading for more time. However, when you’ve already lost the person you love, there isn’t much left to bargain for. In my 2012 memoir The Rules of Inheritance, I used the five stages as a framework to illustrate my own grief process. When it came to the bargaining stage, the only way I could make sense of it was to liken it to the idea of magical thinking, a condition Joan Didion has described beautifully. I wrote about how, for years, I found myself thinking that if I worked hard enough or teetered precariously on enough sharp edges, my mother might reappear from the other side to save me.

Including anxiety in the five stages of grief would better serve the bereaved. Even more than depression, anxiety is the response my grieving clients express a desire to overcome since experiencing loss. They describe feelings of panic and obsessive thinking about their own deaths and potential illness. They tell me about bouts of helplessness and of feeling overwhelmed by life itself, about panic attacks and moments of such paralyzing fear that they pull their cars over on the way to work. I have even heard my own story about the ER told back to me countless times.

When we lose someone we love, we are thrust into a world where we feel more vulnerable than ever before. Suddenly we must face the fact that there are absolutely no guarantees in life. Everything that once seemed sturdy is now fragile, particularly the people we love. These feelings can be incredibly overwhelming and oftentimes terrifying. It takes time and work to overcome them, to feel secure again in such a now-delicate world. And for people who suffer multiple losses in a short period of time, it can take even longer.

The anxiety that comes with grief can be debilitating, but because it is not included in Kübler-Ross’ five stages, it tends to be ignored or dismissed as a different problem altogether. However, anxiety is a very real and very normal reaction to grief and it must be recognized. It is also highly treatable once it is distinguished for what it is.

There is a wonderful and unexpected gift that comes with seeing how fragile our lives are. It enables us to be more present, to feel grateful for what is right in front us, to cherish what we are able to hold onto right here, right now. But in order to reach that level of acceptance we must wade through the tremulous waters of fear and anxiety, recognizing them as a part of a larger process that will see us through to a shore where so many of us have emerged changed, if not healed.

When I look back on my frightened 18-year-old self, I’m saddened that no one was able to see what was really going on. If just one person had recognized how fragile my life had become, perhaps they could have reassured me that no matter how scared I was, I wasn’t alone.

Originally published at Slate.com.


new year grief

Grieving in the New Year

If you're like me, the new year always brings an opportunity for renewal and a fresh start. Except when you're grieving. When you've lost someone you love - recently, or even years ago - the new year can bring on a tidal wave of emotions and expectations. The idea of starting over in the new year can feel unwanted or even just overwhelming.

Grieving in the New Year | Claire Bidwell Smith

New Year’s Resolution: Be less sad.

Impossible.

If you have this one on your list strike it out right now! I've heard so many clients tell me stories of trying to "quit" grieving at the beginning of the year, only to have this resolution fall flat on its face.

New Year’s simply looks different for those who are grieving. You may find yourself feeling more alone than ever as you watch your friends and loved ones carry on celebrating and making resolutions to embrace the year ahead. Because when you’re grieving there is a poignancy that comes with the passing of time, and nothing feels like more of a reminder of this than the new year.

I’ll never forget the first new year after my mother died. She had been gone for almost a year but when the clock struck 12 that night and the minutes carried forth into a year in which she was not alive, I literally sank to my knees in pain in the back hallway of a nightclub.

The intense pain I felt in that moment was unexpected for me. For most of that first year, I had felt numb. But when the hands of the clock began to move forward and I realized I was entering a year in which she would not be a part of, I felt overcome with searing grief. The club patrons carried on celebrating around me and I curled into a corner of the hallway sobbing into my hands, missing my mother more than I could stand, and not knowing how I would get through an entire lifetime without her.

Allow Grief to be Part of Your New Year

Be kind to yourself in the new year. You don’t have to make the traditional fresh start, embrace diets, work out regimes, or start a daily gratitude list. Whether this is your first year without your loved one or whether it’s been many years since the loss, it’s important to honor your feelings and give yourself the proper time you need to grieve. There will be other years in which you can feel celebratory again. But this year be gentle with yourself.

Let your resolution be one of vulnerability. So many of us are afraid to feel all the big emotions that come after a loss. These feelings can be overwhelming and also make you feel like you are not functioning like everyone else around you, but let that be okay for now.

I’ve had many people tell me years after a loss that they feel they missed an opportunity in their grief - that they did not let it in when given the chance, and that it hardened something about their relationship with their loved one.

Use the new year to take a deep breath and to embrace who you are in this moment. We change so much more than we realize. So remember that you will not always be in this space, but while you are, allow yourself to feel all that comes with loss.

There is undeniably an identity shift that comes with losing someone close to you. Be it a friend, family member, spouse, or child, their absence in your life will force change upon your soul. Most of us try to resist that change, thinking that the answer to getting through the pain is to try to remain exactly the same, to try to retain the person you were before the loss. But in fact, the opposite is true.

When we can allow ourselves to let the loss shape us and change us, we will grow with experience, rather than against it. And whenever we stop resisting something then we can give ourselves the opportunity to heal.

The Year of Letting Go

Let this be the year of letting go. Not of your loved one, but of your expectations of yourself. You will never get over your loved one and you do not ever need to let go of them, but in order to heal you do need to release the idea that you can remain unchanged.

Each time you find yourself judging your grief process - whether it’s thinking you are too sad or too angry or simply too consumed by it all - let go and know that whatever you are feeling right now is normal and natural. You will eventually reach a state of less pain and sadness and anxiety. You will find a new normal. Until then, be gentle with yourself.

Meditation for the New Year

I want to walk you through a simple meditation that you can do anytime you have a quiet and private space for 5-10 minutes. Don’t worry if you’ve never meditated before. Just give it a try.

First lie back in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Then take a moment to simply breathe and become attuned to your body. When you are ready I want you to imagine that you are rising up above yourself and looking down.

Take note of everything that you are experiencing in this moment in time. Do not resist what you see. If you think you are too sad, or too heavy or too scattered or too whatever I want you to let yourself see it and accept it anyway. This is who you are in this moment.

Take another moment to imagine reaching down and stroking your own head in a loving way. Forgive yourself for anything you think you are doing wrong and just for this one moment, during this meditation, let yourself feel real love and compassion for who you are, right here and right now.

Give yourself a message of reassurance and love. See yourself as you would see a friend or a child, and meet yourself with true compassion.

When you are ready, return to your body and take some slow, deep breaths before you open your eyes.

Do this meditation as often as you need. It will help keep you present and balanced in the new year. And remember, the path to healing starts with giving yourself space to grieve.

 


video talk claire bidwell smith conversations that matter

The Conversation: Stories that Matter

My discussion on grief and anxiety after loss at The Conversation: Stories that Matter at the HBO Theater in NYC.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQP4r4AyRRo&t=264s