The new year represents many things to many people. If you are grieving, the most poignant significance may be that now you have to say "My loved one died last year" as opposed to this year. Or if the death occurred longer ago, you will now have to re-calculate that it is yet one year more since your loved one was alive. And that may have symbolic implications, even though the changing of the calendar is not likely to magically create a substantial difference in the way you are feeling.
At times the reality that your grief did not disappear on Jan. 1 can cause you to wonder why you aren't excited about what the new year may hold. Perhaps you feel unsure if you are ever going to feel better. At other times you might feel a great deal of relief that such a difficult year is behind you and that 2014 holds promise for better days ahead.
While it is true that you can't just make a New Year's resolution to feel a certain way, you can resolve to take some steps this year to help yourself along this complicated journey through grief. You can maintain the hope and expectation that in the months ahead your pain will ease and life will begin to feel brighter.
Here are some realistic expectations that might be within reach in 2014:
- Healing of your heart -- you may have already noticed the gradual subsiding of the acute, raw pain over time. As you continue to have periods of calmness and peace, know that your heart is beginning to heal.
- A decrease in the bursts of sadness -- as time passes, you will find yourself going for longer stretches without crying; or that the sudden bursts of intense feelings don't last as long.
- Improved self-care -- taking better care of yourself includes increasing your activity level, getting into better physical shape, eating healthy, doing things that refresh and revitalize you.
- Reminiscing about happier times -- this might include being able to look at pictures and smile, being able to think about the life of the person, not just about their death.
- Finding ways to stay connected and honoring the memory of the person who died -- taking on some type of meaningful work/project that connects you to your loved one.
- Experiencing gratitude -- Honoring the memory of the person who died by doing something in their name as a way of keeping their memory alive.
- Rediscovering joy -- allowing yourself to both grieve and experience pleasure in life will bring more balance. It is a matter of and rather than one or the other.
- Finding hope and resilience -- recognizing an optimism within you that each day brings new possibilities to explore. You gradually reinvest in life and as you do, you begin to feel hopeful about the year ahead.
As you move into 2014, may you find peace, good health and healing amidst your grief.
Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT, is the Clinical Director of Adult Programs and Education at OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center, one of the nation's most respected centers for grief support and education. Fredda presents workshops and seminars on end of life and grief for therapists, clergy, educators, and medical and mental health professionals at locations throughout the country. She is the co-author of Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey Through End of Life and Grief. Recognized as an expert in death, dying, and bereavement, Fredda has devoted her career to life's final chapter.