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Alysia Reiner

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Lean in: Walking Through Grief During the Holidays and Beyond

Posted: 12/29/11 05:05 PM ET

It's the holidays, a time for so much joy, laughter, relaxation, hot cocoa with marshmallows and also... loss. One of my favorite quotes of all time about loss is by Kahlil Gibran: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." I find this is never as true as holiday time.

A new friend is going through her first Christmas without her dad. She appreciates that I am not afraid to go there with her, as she remarks that so many people don't know how to broach the subject. I remember that feeling the first year and the rush of memories, and it can still happen almost 10 years later. My father LOVED Christmas carols and everyone seems to be playing ones by Diana Krall, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra -- his absolute favorites. So what do you do when it happens? "Lean in."

I'm a huge fan of Pema Chodron and when I read Things Fall Apart, I felt like she was talking straight to me. Mark Nepo helps me start or end many a day with The Book of Awakening, and was part of the inspiration for this post today. These are my teachers in the art of "leaning in."

Leaning in is about being. I'm a really good doer: holiday shopper, latke-maker, New Year's Eve dinner party thrower, but BE-ing sometimes baffles me. So here are some things that I have learned:

1. Breathe into the feeling.
You may find yourself creating fantasy, good or bad, to avoid feelings during the holidays. I personally can create an elaborate fantasy/worry about how my husband is going to die early just like my dad and his dad did, what will my life be like, which leads me to the fear that something horrible will happen to my child just like... Okay, STOP! Take a breath and really lean into the feeling below the surface, the feeling that the fantasy is actually trying to distract you from (crazy way to distract right?). Even if you're on the subway or in spin class or whatever, just breathe into the feeling. If you have the courage, you show someone else that they can, too. Breathe into it, tears may flow, it's okay, it's normal, it's beautiful, it's appreciation for all we have. Try to just stay with the feeling. I promise it will pass.

2. Be right here, right now.
A wonderful acting teacher I love, Josh Pais, has a system I love for being in the moment in acting, but also in life. And one of the things he reminds me of is to take a moment and just be here now. One way he talks about doing that is saying out loud to yourself "I'm back," and then tune into your five senses. What do you really see/hear/smell/feel/taste in this moment?

3. Share the memory.
My 3-year-old has never met my dad, but she knows a lot about her Grandpa Chuckie: what he looks like, what his favorite foods were, things he liked to say, that he loved Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When the feelings come up, share them. It's another way of being present with this moment, not living in the memory but living in the now. When one of my dad's favorite tunes comes on, I can dance with her to it. In that moment I'm coming back into the present, we are all dancing and life is good.

4. Create a ritual.
My sweet sister is saying her goodbyes to go and live in Australia for a while, and it's kind of heartbreaking to our whole family. Goodbyes, even temporary adieus, bring up loss. On her beautiful blog balanceandspice recently she talked about ritual and using it as a way to be with your feelings, to not run away but appreciate them, love them, be in the now with them. Her ritual was to light a candle and say a poem. Another way can be to write a letter to a loved one and burn it. I love to go to a body of water and talk to my dad (and/or the universe) and then just submerge fully in that ritualistic baptism way (nice Jewish girl that I am). I do this in baths and oceans. I love it and feel so renewed.

These are some ways I "lean in." They're all simple, and don't require anything but the courage to decide to do it. They can be done in a minute or less. It's a choice. Moment to moment: joy, grief, sleigh bells ringing, whatever it is, you can lean into it.

 

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