The holiday season, with all its rich tradition and merriment, sometimes brings with it a need to reflect on times gone by. Gathering with family and friends inspires reminiscence of old — a noble endeavor — but when you are mourning the loss of a loved one the emotional sway of grief can change the story of the past year considerably.
In the first year of grief, we generally focus on the empty space at the holiday table or the events that occurred just a short time ago when our loved one was present with us. There is perhaps a deep longing to remember our loved one and share our grief with those with which we gather.
Many of us have found that inviting others into our grief through ceremony works especially well during the holidays. It creates a sacred environment where all are welcome to speak of those who have gone before us, mingling unexpected laughter and necessary tears.
My husband Trent died in September, so the holidays seemed to rush upon me with determined ferocity that first year. Though I felt I was moving in a daze, volleying between the deep heart wrenching reality of Trent’s death and mind-numbing shock, I needed to speak of him and hear his name.
I recall that first Christmas, now 20 years past, when I asked to read a tender prayer I had written before Christmas dinner that included my gratitude for the members of my family and the ways Trent had enriched my life. I worried a bit about how it would be received, but felt compelled to offer my thoughts.
I was delighted to note the collective sigh of relief my loved ones expressed as we sat down to our family feast following the prayer. Antidotal stories were passed along with the honey ham and sweet potato pie quite naturally then and the banter warmed my broken heart. The prayer had given them the permission they needed to speak of Trent.
After quiet reflection during the end of year festivities, there naturally follows the hopeful anticipation of things yet to be. Many of us rally to start afresh with the coming of the new year. We hear from loved ones, “Let it go, it’s a new year.” But how do we find a new beginning when grief has a strong hold that renders us ill equipped to look to the future?
I have learned that finding a new beginning is not necessarily about immediate change. I’ve tried imposing those customary resolutions on what I thought I needed to achieve on my grief journey each year — cleaning out my husband’s cherished belongings, removing my wedding rings, crying only once a week. These goals gave me direction, but as the weeks and months of my early grief progressed, they were rendered flat and uninspired.
There is a time to move forward and a time to be still. Each step we take on our journey of grief is a new beginning. Each step is part of an evolution toward healing and living fully again.
Experiencing my grief in all its fury and solitude, and allowing myself to follow my heart as to the changes that would occur naturally or by choice created the healing that I worked toward. Looking back was, for me, part of the healing. And so too was waiting for the right time to accomplish my grief work.
In the end it’s not really so much about letting go, but more a “moving along” with the need to reconcile the loss into our lives. Each new year does bring the promise of some new beginning. And for those in mourning that can be the healing of a heart.