New Year, New Grief

You might assume the New Year’s arrival will bring healing relief to friends whose loved ones died during the last year. You might think, “Now that it’s a new year, not the year of their loss, things will be better, right?”

Not necessarily.

For some mourners, replacing their calendar from the year of a significant loss might feel like it offers a “fresh start.” For many of the recently bereaved, though, the New Year marks another level of removal from beloved ones, another severing of increasingly tenuous connections to them and/or their memories. In previous years their loved ones lived; in all the years to come, they won’t. Once that calendar changes, shared years are forever left behind.

New Year’s Eve (just like other holidays) can trigger renewed feelings of loss in those who have already begun the long, long, long process of learning to live while grieving loved ones. From traditions like setting New Year’s resolutions (a.k.a. “goals”), to swapping “Who were you with when the ball dropped?” stories, to serving special New Year’s Day foods (like black-eyed peas), the day — and day after — can be full of painful reminders of grief.

The end of one year and the beginning of another can be difficult for those mourning with anticipated grief, too. If your friends are facing a terminal illness or condition for themselves or their loved one, the imminence of knowing the coming year might — or will — be their last together can be overwhelming.

How can you help your grieving friends through the New Year?

  • Acknowledge that you know this holiday, like others, marks a difficult time of year.  Whether the loss is recently raw or it has been years, with the ending/beginning nature of this worldwide change from one year to the next, New Year’s Eve and Day have the potential to reopen grief’s partly- or not-yet-healed wounds.
  • Invite your grieving friends to join you in your celebration or commemoration of the event. Let them know you’d like them to be with you for your sake (“I’d like your company”) as well as for their sakes (“I’d like y’all to join me so you won’t have to be alone or plan anything yourselves”). If they decline at once, let them know the invitation remains open in case circumstances change or they change their minds.
  • Repeat the invitation, but don’t push. Offer your grieving friends the choice, but respect that they will know best for themselves whether solitude or socializing will help. For some of my widowed friends, going to friends’ homes to ring in the New Year lifted their spirits better than staying home. For me, some years I’ve needed to stay home watching chick flicks with my daughters and other years I’ve preferred to go out dancing with friends.
  • Offer an oasis. Sometimes the bereaved can happily engage with others one moment and feel hit by tsunami-sized waves of grief the next. Let your grieving guest(s) know ahead of time where they can go if they need a few moments to themselves. (Sometimes a private cry is priceless for channeling emotions.)

If your mourning friends choose not to join you, you can still offer an oasis of listening, awareness, and concern. When “life moves on” for the rest of the world on January 1st (and by the way, do NOT ever tell mourners “life moves on”), let your friends know that you know that this year will be different and that you will still be there for them.

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For more on this topic, see Don’t Say “Happy New Year” after a Death.

 

8 thoughts on “New Year, New Grief

  1. […] (1) New Year, New Grief: What to Say When Someone Dies by: Teresa Bruce, tealashes.com […]

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  2. […] — and now we’re facing New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. [Please see New Year, New Grief for specifics on grief, the end of one year, and the beginning of the […]

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  3. This right here is exactly how I feel and I thought no one understood this. “For many of the recently bereaved, though, the New Year marks another level of removal from beloved ones, another severing of increasingly tenuous connections to them and/or their memories. In previous years their loved ones lived; in all the years to come, they won’t. Once that calendar changes, shared years are forever left behind.” I have suffered multiple, devastating, life altering losses over the last two years. The most recent just 8 months ago. The whole world just keeps going and all I feel is pain and brokenness. I can’t let it show. I tried; once. It scared people because you see, I am everyone’s rock. Their strength. The one in control. I don’t cry. I don’t break. Grief is the loneliest experience I have ever gone through. I always thought that the people I surrounded myself with would be there. What I discovered is that grief is a solitary journey, It is long and it is painful. A new Year is not a celebration for me. It’s part of the pain and the journey.

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    • Aimee, I’m so sorry you’ve undergone multiple losses — at all — but especially in such a short time. Grief is lonely, because each of us experiences it differently and because there are so many layers of adjustment to sift through. And every one of those layers inflicts its own pain.

      I hope this year will bring people into your life you can trust to let see your grief. I too experienced people not being able or willing to see what grief really did to me. But I had a few close friends willing to step closer and say, “Let it out. This sucks. You don’t have to be strong right now.” Oddly, their “permission” to fall apart helped me hold it together better than I could have otherwise.

      When I finally made an appointment with a grief counselor, it was indescribably empowering and validating to have one person I could tell everything about my feelings, my having to hold it together for others, my fears, my insecurities — without fear of judgement or so-called suggestions to “fix” my grief. The grief counseling gave me tools to help me frame my own perspective and figure out what I needed for my own well-being. It was like the airline warning to wear your own oxygen mask in an emergency before helping the people around you breathe.

      Aimee, I hope you will be able to find strength and comfort in your journey.

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  4. well said..thank you

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  5. […] of this post may seem familiar; parts are adapted from my earlier New Year, New Grief and New Year after Death […]

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