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.
The Compassionate Friends https://www.tcf.org.uk/
CRUSE Bereavement Care https://www.cruse.org.uk/