Monthly Archives: December 2017

Grief, loss and stepping into a New Year

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As 2017 closes and the New Year approaches, it is a time of mixed feelings for many of us. What lies ahead in 2018?  The year will arrive as a fresh, empty page, ready to be filled with a potpourri of joys, achievements, happiness and sorrow, over the next twelve months.

This time last year, Shaun and I were contemplating a move to the West Country, with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation.  A year on, and our move has happened; we are settling into a different, countryside life in Devon, our time filled with the prospect of new adventures.  We are very fortunate and the turn of the year is a good time to take stock and feel gratitude for what we have, never forgetting the links we have left behind us.

But having lost my brother to cancer this year, I know that turning the corner from 2017 to 2018 will have its difficulties too.

Looking back over 2017, Peter was here; looking forward into 2018 … he is not.

The memories I have of him are mixed as we had periods of estrangement, but I find it easy to focus on the better times we shared, particularly over the past few years.  I know too, that as time passes and the loss becomes less raw, I will be able to share and enjoy some more family memories with my nephew, Ben.  Peter’s spirit lives on in his son, which is immensely comforting.

Losing James 12 years ago has taught me many lessons about living with grief and loss, and the turn of the year feels like a good time to reiterate some of them, to help those who are grieving the loss of someone dear …

 “How can I face a new year without him/her in it?”

Try not to resist the New Year.  There is comfort in living in the past, that’s true, but endeavour to see the opportunities that may present in the year to come, and embrace them in memory of, and on behalf of, the person you have lost.  Know that he or she will be proud of you. Don’t be afraid to draw strength from those who offer it … sometimes you have to accept that you need that input.

“How can I dilute the pain of my loss?”

Writing or talking about different aspects of what has happened may help.  As time passes you will find that you don’t need to go into so much detail.  Soon after James died, I wanted to tell everyone I encountered that I had lost my son, but I gradually became more selective.  Every telling and re-telling of your story can help to reduce the impact.  Eventually you will be able to do it without tears.

“What will help me to feel positive about the coming year?”

Each challenge that comes your way, whether it is simple like grocery shopping or major such as a job change, has to be faced differently without your loved one.  I can remember the early days of loss when I would tell James out loud, as I was driving home, how well I had coped at work that day (probably this would be a day I managed to get through without weeping).  The cumulative effect of constantly trying to achieve milestones, big or small, helped me to feel better.  And indeed, this still works.  If you can visualise your loved one(s) at your shoulder, encouraging your efforts, this can really help.  I always try to ‘see’ James walking in my shadow, and I often sense my mum around me … intangible and difficult to explain, but helpful support nonetheless.

“Where do I find the practical tools that will help me through grief?”

There are many different options for self-care and self-help.  If you tend to think negatively, making positive affirmations can help.  Soothe yourself with music or treat yourself to something that uplifts you, such as a beauty or complementary therapy.  Boost your endorphins by walking or working out in the gym.  Spend time in nature.  Buy yourself some flowers.  Make a spiritual connection through meditation or prayer.  Light an incense stick.  Draw a picture.  Write a letter. Bake a cake.  Really, anything goes! The only rule is that whatever you do must comfort you and take you off the grinding treadmill of grief for a while.

“How do I trust in the unknown that the New Year represents?”

You need to have faith and hope to move forward when you are grieving.  Faith that it will get better.  Hope for the future.  Hope also for the gift of a future that does not contain your loved one, yet is enriched by his or her lifetime and what they brought to their own life, and yours.

Somehow you will come to know what it takes to have the courage to live for the future by working through one day at a time and living in the present.

It may help too, to consider the best characteristics of the person who died, and try to emulate them.  For instance, James possessed a wealth of compassion in his persona and I believe I hold deeper compassion for those who suffer since he died.  I feel that I have acquired this quality from his being and I owe it to him to carry it forward on his behalf.  When someone dies, it behoves those who are left to carry the baton for them, and this is particularly true when you lose a child and know that you are living the future that has been denied to him or her.

You may feel guilty that you are here, and they are not.  Don’t be afraid to kick guilt out … smile, laugh and look forward to tomorrow with as much joy as you can.  You are doing it for your family, friends and those who are still living, as well as those who are not.

“How can I bring my loved one into the New Year with me?”

One of the hardest things about the turn of the year, and particularly the first New Year after loss, is the knowledge that your loved ones are not coming with you, at least physically.  You might need to mark their presence in a tangible way.  Lighting a candle and proposing a toast are simple options.  Talking about the person can be helpful, too.

If you are with someone who is bereaved, never, and I really mean never, be afraid to say his or her name.  You will not make someone feel worse by mentioning the person who died.  You are not ‘reminding’ them, rather you are showing empathy, and that will be appreciated.  Trust me!

In closing, I remember those whom I have lost and also hold dear those who remain, my cherished and loved family and friends

I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy 2018.

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links:

The Compassionate Friends    https://www.tcf.org.uk/

CRUSE Bereavement Care        https://www.cruse.org.uk/

 

 

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Observations on Advent

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Sometimes I wake in the night feeling thirsty.  It’s pitch dark and I carefully sit up in bed so as not to disturb my husband Shaun.  I reach out for the glass of water on my bedside table, and although I cannot see it, my hand unerringly closes easily around the glass. I quench my thirst, and then I use my other hand to locate the edge of the table so that I put the drink down safely.

This small event may seem insignificant; but it carries an important message.

Though I cannot see the glass, I know that it is there and what is more, I can trustingly reach out and grasp it whenever I want, even when I am only half awake and bleary-eyed.  What a brilliant example of faith! – in fact it’s blind faith in the true sense of the word.

I’m exposed daily to minor miracles which I take for granted.  For instance, it may be easy to explain the practicalities of the process, but I am always amazed by everything that happens in the few seconds it takes to start my car.  All elements have to be correctly aligned before that spark of energy fires the engine, and yet they come together every time.

I am sure I am not alone in trusting in many things I can neither see nor understand.

At this time of year, when the days are short and the darkness can seem impenetrable, literally and figuratively, I am grateful for the time of Advent.  The spiritual aspect of the weeks leading to the festive celebrations is a good antidote to the frenetic preparation, shopping and cooking for Christmas get-togethers and precious family time.

Advent is in itself a period of reflection and anticipation.

Advent provides opportunities for stillness and serenity with an added air of expectation.

Advent promises the light after the darkness.

Advent offers the culmination of something special time after time.

Advent is a season that understands the emptiness of grief; it is a time that can begin to provide the filling of that emptiness and the repair of that which has been broken.              For those who are grieving, the simple act of lighting a candle in remembrance offers the comfort of light to help in dispersing the darkness of loss.

The true essence of Christmas lies in the fulfillment of the promise of Advent, culminating in the telling and retelling of the story of the arrival of the much celebrated baby boy.  Jesus was born all those years ago in Bethlehem and his birth may perhaps take the prize for ‘most renowned in history’.

We cannot see those long ago people now.  We cannot hear their voices exclaiming,      “How wonderful!” as they must have said when they gazed into the crib.                               We cannot feel their awed emotion, or taste their food, or drink their water.                         But what we can do is rejoice with our own faith that what they saw, felt, ate and drank laid many of the foundations for how we feel, eat and drink today.

Christmas is not just about the presents, it is also about the presence – the demonstration of belief and trust that happens year on year. 

For relatively new Christians like me, the discovery of the anticipatory joy of Advent brings with it the excitement of learning the biblical background and understanding its messages. Advent and the arrival of the light of Christmas allow for a sense of renewal, restoration and replenishment of the spirit, ready for the turn of the year that is soon to follow.

Stringing the lights, wrapping the gifts, singing the carols and adorning the tree all carry the messages of light, joy and hope that are there for all to enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.  If the enforced, collective jollity that is engendered by the run up to Christmas is not for you, then you can embrace your own ways of getting through the season.  It’s a personal choice.

Perhaps you too will reach out for your own glass of water in the night and recognise how this reflects your personal view of faith and trust.  It is all too easy to take the basics of life for granted. But they are underpinned by something truly ancient, immensely special and universally generous.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas!

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