A New Years Resolution in a year of grief: A place to start

What happens when you combine Grief and New Years Resolutions? Usually, not much. The lofty intention – usually short-lived – to do hard things like lose 25 pounds by Valentine’s Day, or go to the gym everyday, just don’t seem relevant in the face of loss. Some of us are losing weight because we can’t get interested in eating, sure, but that’s different. Some of us can barely get out of the recliner, let alone take a cardio class.

But, we often underestimate ourselves as we grieve. Because energy is hard to come by, and focus fleeting, it may seem impossible to make plans, especially when they require optimism. (In fact, when others make predictions of better days ahead, we’d like to pop them in the nose because they obviously don’t get what we are going through.) But it’s worth taking a second look.

Again and again, my clients have shown me that they can set a daily intention and carry it out, and take heart in the progress that results. The trick is to choose a doable intention.

Wilson came in fuming about his friend’s demand that he make a New Years Resolution, even though he was deep in grief, because it would cheer him up. After the loss of his dad, Wilson pointed out, his goal was not to cheer up. It was to survive the day. As he vented, he acknowledged that it wouldn’t kill him to consider what he might be able to do each day that could help with that survival.

We went on to talk about the common story that we are helpless until the grief lifts. But that’s a myth.

In reviewing the past week that included avoiding some dreaded tasks, trying not to tear up as his friend told a story about his dad, and sitting through a sunset that his dad would have loved, Wilson figured out a doable intention. He vowed that he would keep his eyes open to capture one positive aspect of each day. At the end of the day, he would record it on a gratitude list.

The next week, he finally picked up the death certificates. He told his friend how much it helped to hear the story about his dad. The next time he saw a sunset, it was with a different intention. “I saw so many sunsets with Dad. That was his favorite thing to do at the end of a day. So I felt like from now on it will be like a moment with him.” And each of those days, he wrote it down.

It made a difference for Wilson. Maybe for you, too.

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