Another New Year’s Eve usually means forming a new set of intentions for the coming year, a chance to look ahead and plan for a better year, a chance for a new start. After the loss of a loved one, the New Year brings a more complicated challenge. For a person in grief, it can feel instead like an unwanted push further away from the loved one and into a year you’d prefer not to embrace.
After a loss, priorities come into new focus: joining a gym to get fit or starting a diet to lose ten pounds seem trivial in the face of waves of grief. The absence of your loved one crowds out other concerns. As time moves you further away from your loss, you want to concentrate your attention on remembering, not looking ahead.
There is a certain kind of resolution that can honor that remembering. When a loved one dies, the relationship does not die, but lives on in the mind and heart. It is our work to transform what we have had into what we can keep.. There is so much that we can keep; in fact, we couldn’t rid ourselves of it if we tried. It comes in the form of stories and memories, and the deep knowledge of what that person would say in any given situation.
I’ve learned a lot about this from hospice social worker and author Lorraine Hedtke. She says that giving up your relationship with a loved one who has died is like turning your back on the investment of a lifetime. Keeping the relationship in a newly transformed way allows your loved one to continue having an influence on you and on the world.
Early on, memories can bring a stab of pain, for the moment of recognition that the loved one can’t again be in the room within reach. Later on, we master the art of having the memory bring comfort even in their absence. We learn that they can still be here, just out of physical reach. We learn to cultivate gratitude, even joy, about that.
So, how about trying a resolution that keeps you more connected to your loved one, and lets you remember the closeness that never has to go away? The gym and the 10 pounds, or whatever your version is of those, can wait.