Grief & New Year’s Resolutions
Dear fellow grievers,
A good friend recently asked me, as she has every year since we met twenty years ago if I was happy 2021 was nearly over—and what I planned to leave behind. We began to discuss changes we wanted to incorporate in our lives in 2022 as many people do around this time of year, but each thing we said felt flimsy and surreal. 2021 wasn’t just any other year for the majority if not all of us—we still grappled with the pandemic and loss. Loss of loved ones, opportunities, friendships, blood relatives that turned away from us, new friendships, gatherings, and experiences that make us feel alive.
As the two of us continued talking, we realized setting goals or new year’s resolutions felt off. We both found it difficult to do, not just because the pandemic still has us uneasy, but because the concept of a new year didn’t make a lot of sense to us anymore. Time, in past years, had felt like a ghost always on your back; time was always pushing us forward, the pressure unbearable at moments. But grief had done one of the things its best at—it turned time into an illusion. Grief, with its not so gentle grip, whips us between the past and future, expertly avoiding the present. It’s unsettling, messy, and confusing. The present is now, and our losses are no longer here with us now.
Before loss, we mark time with birthdays, holidays, parties, and graduations, with the New Year as the strongest mark of them all. After loss, those dates take on a different meaning. They transform into a different type of marker. We end up frozen in time, marking it with “this is where we ate our last meal together” or “two weeks ago was the last time I heard my baby’s heartbeat” or “it has been two years since I saw my best friend in person”, or merely passing by somewhere and thinking, “just three years ago we walked this path together and laughed.” So, when the question of new year resolutions, including things we’d prefer to leave in 2021, comes up, how are we supposed to answer? What goals are we setting when once the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, it feels no different than all of the other days where we miss what we’ve lost? It isn’t like a date change will suddenly melt away our pain. And how can we even begin to think about our future, when it seems to be missing so much? My friend set down her hot toddy and asked me, “What’s the point of starting fresh when so many things that we love are still in the past?”
I didn’t have an answer for her then, and I certainly don’t now. But when her six-month-old son laughed at the two of us for god only knows what, it made it a little more bearable. It brought the present to the forefront and got us out of our heads—especially when we realized it was because he had popped on my carpet. My dear friend’s husband delighted that we were smiling again, didn’t have an answer for us either. He’d lost his father when he was a child—over thirty years ago. He let us know that it was still hard, and he still measured time by the five years he had with his dad.
We concluded that, perhaps, we were the source of the pressure and not time (this instance at least), and this just might be the year to go easy on ourselves. The three of us decided that this is when we leave putting pressure on ourselves to conform to an arbitrary timeline behind.
When we see families and friends welcoming the new year, we’ll be thinking of all that is missing rather than all we have to look forward to—including time. And that is okay. So, fellow grievers, go easy on yourselves no matter the type of grief you’re experiencing right now. Many of us are dealing with more than a few versions of grief, and it’s going to take time to return to the present. If you’re finding it difficult to plan for a life with someone or something taken from it, remember you’re on a different timeline at the moment. But you’ll find yourself hopping back on, catching that local train that still stops quite often in your grief, but will make it to your destination.