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


holidays grief

Surviving the Holidays When You're Grieving

The holidays can be an especially difficult time when you are grieving. The feelings around any significant loss are heightened during this time of year, whether the loss is recent or even years out. Holiday traditions and festivities serve to illuminate the absence of someone you love, making your feelings of grief and loss grow even stronger. It can be hard not to look around and see everyone else with their seemingly happy, intact families. You can't help but feel that you are lacking in some way, that someone is missing, and that things just aren't the same.

If you're feeling this way and if you're cycling through a roller coaster of emotions, know that you're not alone. It is completely normal to feel this way. This month every single one of my clients has been experiencing a tumultuous range of emotions. And I've lived through it myself.

I like to believe that two things can be true at once. When you are grieving, the holidays can still be sweet and fun and nostalgic, but they can also be bitterly painful. You do not have to choose one way or the other.

My mother loved the holidays and the first year after she died was brutal – every single festivity was a reminder that she was gone and that my life was never going to be the same. I felt angry at all the people around me who didn't even seem to realize how great their lives were and how much they had. And I felt sad that I would never again share these traditions and events with her. An otherwise fun or meaningful holiday moment often put me into a sorrowful or angry mood.

It took a while for me to be able embrace them again. Time went by before I was able to resurrect the festive rituals my mother had loved. And even more years had to pass for me to stop feeling the sweetness of enjoying a rich and complex life, and also wincing from the pain of it.

Now the holidays feel different. Even when I don't have family around me, my daughters and I cook and decorate and laugh, and it’s not what it would have been were my parents still been alive. But it is also good and meaningful and I strive to embrace the essence of what my mother always loved about every holiday.

If this year is your first or second year without a loved one, give yourself a pass. Let it be okay to not feel like you're in the holiday spirit. Enjoy bright moments here and there, but don't expect the overall experience this year to be what it has been in the past. Know that it won’t always feel so painful and lonely. In time you will find ways to feel joy and cheer again, and that finding ways to evoke your loved one over the holidays will make you feel closer to them.

If your loss is an older one, or even for those whose are recent, try to think of ways to draw your loved one close this season. Either by talking about them and telling stories with family members or recreating traditions that were important to them.

Overall, be kind and compassionate with yourself during these last days of the year.