Originally published in January 2012.
Here we are at the end of the first month of a new year. Usually most folks look forward to the new year since it can represent a new beginning and/or a chance to “do better” than in the previous twelve months. New Year’s Eve parties are planned and large community gatherings are organized. The agenda is to celebrate with friends, food, libations, confetti, noise-makers and resolutions. You, as a griever, have successfully made it through January. Good for you!
However, you may have had a much different take on New Year’s. It could have been hard to conjure up energy and joy about the approaching year. It was probably hurtful at times when the media and others encouraged you to have a HAPPY New Year. Your questions could have been (and may still be); what do I have to be happy about, how can I possibly look forward to a new year without the physical presence of my loved one, or what makes anyone think I have the extra energy to resolve to stop a bad habit or initiate a new more positive behavior?
Considering the emotional ups and downs that are a natural part of the grief process, you may have had a few experiences of happiness in January. Perhaps you had a moment when you looked forward to feeling better in the new year. Maybe you saw and felt another person’s joy about their possibilities in the new year and truly felt glad for them.
It could be, as this first month of the new year ends, you have chosen not to recognize the significance or possibilities for YOU in a “new year”. Even if you haven’t consciously decided to avoid the concept of a new year I invite you to stay with me here for what comes next.
Your loved one has died, your heart feels broken, your grief process is overwhelming, you struggle daily with the draining emotion of sadness, and you don’t necessarily feel hopeful about your future. However, you are alive and you do have a future. Do you believe your future life can be better than you have ever imagined? I believe it can.
The passage of time will always bring about a new year. As a griever you do face a new year without your loved one but you can approach it positively by taking gifts from your loved one with you. Your loved one taught you many things, gave you treasured items, instilled within you important morals and ethics, genetically provided you with physical attributes, opened your mind to new and broad ideas and etc.
Make a list of the gifts your loved one has left with you. I suggest you write this list by hand and not use a computer. It is impossible to have anything “wrong” on your list. Your gifts may include things like: 1. beautiful red curling hair, 2. the ability to speak fluent Spanish, 3. the attitude of always seeing the glass half-full, 4. the opportunity to attend college, 5. bright blue eyes, 6. the habit of exercising, 7. the special recipes created, 8. the stamp collection that is so unique and beautiful, 9. the idea of practicing random acts of kindness and 10. etc.
You are singularly unique and your list of gifts will be unique as well. Your relationship with your loved one was important and they have influenced you physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. These are their permanent gifts for you.
After you have made your list of these loving gifts I invite you to get creative. Match each gift with something you can look at and experience. This “something” will become the symbol for the gift. For instance, if your gift is red curling hair you might cut off a small curl or get a piece of red ribbon that matches the red of your hair or get a pretty red bead or button from a craft shop. For the glass half-full — pick out an elegant glass. Use a thank-you card to represent the opportunity you have to attend college/trade school.
You could get a different bead or individual small candle for each gift. Engage the healing power of your creative self now. It is so important to your healing. However you match your gift with its symbol need only have meaning for you. Your choices don’t have to be logical or understood by anyone else. The length of time you take to accomplish all of this will be perfect timing.
Once you have your list and have matched the gifts with their symbols place them on a dresser, table or window sill. Have them in a place you pass by frequently. As you pass by the symbols you have chosen, pause for a moment and recognize their value. Express gratitude for the gifts left for you, know your loved one will live on as you embrace and personalize your gifts and take them with you into the new year. This should help you feel stronger as you face your new year while grieving.
I wish you a new year filled with as many happy times as possible.
PS – You know, of course, that for a griever a “new year” can begin at many places in the calendar — your loved ones birthday or day of death, your birthday or the beginning of summer and etc. At anytime you feel hopeless or especially sad missing your loved one, remember their gifts and then the good parts of your loved one will live on within you and give you peace.
Tricia Sample is a masters prepared artist and registered art therapist who worked in hospice for over 12 years. Her hospice patients, families, and coworkers were the inspiration for her Loving Farewells grief support programs.