Your resolution absolution

What will the next year bring? Most of you read What’s Your Grief because someone you love very deeply has died, so the answer to this question depends on where you are in coping with your grief. At the strike of midnight on January 1st you may be heavily under grief’s influence, so what’s the point of talking about resolutions and positive change? How silly and trite it seems to suggest you eat healthy and exercise, meditate and do yoga.  These are all good suggestions, and if you can do them – great! – but for those who currently need a resolution to simply get out of bed, here’s a more useful list of recommended goals for the new year.

  • Get enough sleep
  • Breathe deeply and take things slow
  • Eat regular meals
  • Let others help you
  • Find one thing to smile about in a day
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions
  • Don’t give up
  • Keep a window of hope open

But maybe your heading into the new year a bit further along in your grief.  You’ve climbed out of the dark room and into the light and, although you’re still worse for the wear, you’re ready to start feeling better.  You’re ready to take back control; to take small steps in dealing with guilt, anger, and regret; to make better choices for yourself; and most importantly to continue your bond with your loved one in a way that is reflective of the relationship you had when they were alive.

This will be an uphill climb and it will take resiliency, determination, introspection, and compassion.  It seems to me that instead of talking about a shallow declaration made at the stroke of midnight, perhaps we should discuss the things you truly need to help guide you to a place of wellbeing in the new year. This may sound like an odd thing for the authors of 64 New Years Resolutions for Grievers to say; we’re aware of our hypocrisy.

No half hearted obligatory resolution is going to cover all the ground that lies in front of someone trying to climb out of the dark places of grief; resolutions are small promises made to yourself to do things like give up Diet Coke and cut the ‘S-word’ out of your vocabulary.  If in the new year you’re facing changes and challenges far bigger than those which can be addressed by a New Years resolution, it’s better you focus your efforts on the things that will help you tackle significant change in the new year.

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1. Improve self awareness.  

Start with this reality; sometimes even when you think you’re self-aware, you’re not.   Have you ever stepped on the scale at your annual doctors appointment and found you were 15 pounds heavier than you thought?  Have you ever taken out the recycling and felt shocked by how many empty wine bottles you accumulated that week?  Have you ever thought you were getting by at work, school or socially only to receive feedback to the contrary?  Stop going through life saying “I’m fine” when you’re not and strive to tell yourself the truth about how you’re doing.

2.  Believe you are worthy of that which you consider “good”.  

Believe it or not, people don’t always feel they are worthy of things like good health, positive relationships, sobriety, and contentment.  Things like grief, depression, and isolation are especially good liars and can make you believe that the extra 10 pounds, the drunken stupor, and the verbally abusive relationship are what you deserve.  They aren’t.

3.  Believe circumstances are in your power to change (unless they aren’t). 

Everyone struggles with self-doubt, but losing a loved one may shake your confidence in yourself, others, and the world. After a loss you may find you’re scared, worried and anxious more often; you may withdraw from others and spend more time alone; and you may struggle to find a worldview you’re comfortable with.  It may take a little while for you to get reacquainted with yourself and so you may be a bit slow getting back on your feet; but you have to have faith in yourself and believe you are capable of doing what you can to find a sense of peace and comfort.  

4.  Have realistic expectations and be patient with yourself.  

The death of someone significant brings many secondary losses and necessary adjustments.  It may take you a long time to feel normal again and by ‘normal’ I mean ‘different but okay’.  Grief often means having three good days and one bad, so don’t get frustrated when a grief wave knocks you down.

5. Maintain an environment supportive of your wellbeing.  

Surround yourself with the people who want you to be well.  Take a break from people in your life who drag you down, enable you, encourage you to choose negative coping, or make you feel bad about your grief.  Someday when you’re stronger you can reconnect with them if you choose.

Recognize if you are standing in your own way.  It will be difficult for you to feel better until you believe all the above – that you need to make changes, that you deserve to feel better, that you are capable of achieving wellbeing, and that even though it takes time, you are doing okay.

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March 28, 2017

13 responses on "Your resolution absolution"

  1. That’s what I had: a secondary loss of faith after the death occurred and not because of myself as much as that the person who DIED had more faith than I did but that’s all I can say about the faith of the person who died.
    I’ve never been able to get as much help from anybody other than those who understand PTSD better than I do IMO. Richard, who became my daughter’s godfather after her dad died, seems to understand it better although he doesn’t appear to HAVE it as bad as I do. I don’t know why because I think watching someone die in front of my face like he did would be worse than knowing they were dying but not actually seeing it in real time the way I knew Eric was dying in the World Trade Center but didn’t see him actually die; I’ve heard his distress on a tape but even that isn’t the same. I’ve seen people die on the ambulance, even from violent death, but that doesn’t seem identical to watching people die in combat. With two exceptions my own life wasn’t in danger working as a paramedic.
    Anyway he’s the only person I know who doesn’t think you have to be happy with a Supreme Being while you’re standing there watching people be blown apart by weapons of war or weapons forged against you from everyday things like an airplane turned into a bomb.
    He’s the only one who’s said “you don’t have to feel ANYthing pleasant in that situation, you feel what you feel.”
    When my brother was in Iraq churches used to send them stuff all the time. One time he got this bookmark with a sleeping orange kitty on it that said ‘Have Faith. Trust. Rest assured.’
    He gave it to me when he got home because he didn’t like the message on it, received in the middle of the chaos of war. I didn’t know that’s why he didn’t like it. Richard said it’s probably why. He didn’t receive anything from the American homefront when he was in Vietnam, that’s another way he knew the world was no longer supporting them but he said he probably wouldn’t have liked a bookmark with that message on it even though “it’s a nice sentiment I suppose, just not realistic.”
    That’s when he told me war is chaos and you don’t send someone that message while he’s in the middle of chaos, although any effort to send a message of support would be better than none.

  2. i agree with Andrea. This is very well thought out, succinct, and optimistic. I am 4 1/2 years in and this past year felt that my worldview wasn’t in a positive or hopeful place…too jaded and weary. I will reread this along the way as one of the tools in helping me leave that window open for hope!

    • Cindy,

      Too jaded and weary, I’ve felt that way a lot lately. I hope you find strength and hope and when you do you grab onto it and you don’t let it go. That’s what I’m beginning to think is necessary sometimes, blindly refusing to let go of hope despite all evidence to the contrary. Let’s keep working no this together, shall we?

      Eleanor

  3. Thanks for these words. Just two years and it seems both long and short. Rejigging my life takes a lot of conscious effort. It is hard.

  4. thank you so much for identifying the secondary griefs- my love has been gone from earth for three years, and I sometimes despair at ever finding a whole heart in myself.

  5. These thoughts are really helpful. And, during holidays, I encourage grieving folk to do something that was a tradition with the person they are missing, and then do some new holiday activity on that day, creating a new tradition for themselves. –Karen J. Clayton, from my new book THESE PRECIOUS MOMENTS: Gentle stores about making the end of life the best it can be.

  6. Almost 8 mo. ago I lost my eternal solemate to breast cancer just 42 years into our marriage. Today, I watched our two grandsons in our home for the first time. I have regularly watched them for 1 to 3 hours at a time in their home. The older (2-1/2) grandson saw Grandma’s picture on her piano and quietly remarked “Look there’s Grandma, Momma sad.” I was okay until they left with their mom (our daughter) then I absolutely and completely broke down. Intellectually, I know life is bound to be better. But my heart & soul wonder how that will come to be? We expected to celebrate many more years together.

    • Oh Terry I’m so sorry. I have a 5 year old who says some of the most profound and heartbreaking things, so I can just picture what you described. Life is bound to be better, yes; but I know it won’t ever be the same and that’s tough to take when you liked your life and the person you were spending it beside. I’m so sorry for your family’s pain.

  7. I have no expectations. My only relief is knowing that one day we will be reunited in Heaven. I can’t bring him back and each day apart is no better than the one before. I have resigned myself that I will grieve until the end of my life.

  8. Thank You VERY much for this great post!! Well thought out and well written, terrific ideas that empower me. Much appreciated!

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