We are already well into January and perhaps riding the wave of the many Happy New Year’s greetings we received on social media. They wish us happiness, success, good health, prosperity and all that makes life sweet. Perhaps you have launched into your New Year’s resolutions with high energy and determination to stay on track longer than you did last year.
The start of a new year somehow gives us the opportunity to get a fresh start. We can brush off the moments of sadness that may have darkened our past, and on a fresh blank page we can create a happy and successful life moving forward. That sounds cheerful and optimistic, but I have to admit that New Year’s giddiness doesn’t work for everyone.
Some of you may respond to this optimistic language with a groan and an “Ugh, let me stay under the comfy blankets and hibernate until spring.” The eternally optimistic attitude of a Happy and Prosperous New Year might work for some, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some things carry over from previous years, and grief may be one of them.
With good intentions, your friends may suggest that you should forget about the past and focus on the future. But you know that hasn’t worked for you in the past. Why should it work in 2018? Besides, your grief support group colleagues encourage you “to remember.” They say that it is a healthy thing to do on our grief journey.
So what do you do when your friends are launching into the new year with excitement and passion and you are not about to move forward because holding onto grief has become a way of survival?
There is another way. Having listened to stories of survivors of earthquakes and tsunamis, I learned that some survivors ask themselves, why have they survived when so many loved ones and neighbors around them died?
I remember a woman survivor of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka who asked, “Why did God save me, when my husband and children all perished in the tsunami?” And then she said, “There must be a reason why God rescued me from death. I need to find out what it is. God must have a purpose for my life.” She lost her children, and many children in her town lost their parents. So, she began to take in children who had lost parents and she took care of them until relatives could be located. Somehow she was able to convert the energy of her own losses into compassion for others who suffered losses. Taking care of children who had lost their parents became her new life’s meaning and purpose. It fit her values. It enabled her to do something of value in spite of her grief.
What I take from her experience is a lesson about moving forward. Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I’m going to focus on what makes life most meaningful. Instead of making a fresh list of things that are suppose to make me happy, I’m going to do a fresh review of my values and make a list of actions and things I can do that express my life meaning and purpose.
If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.
Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)