For many people, the close of the calendar year is a time of deep reflection. As one year winds down and a new one looms on the horizon, most of us find ourselves considering the events of the last 12 months, and speculating about what the future may bring. Our social media feeds may be full of year-end reflection posts, other people’s highlight reels of their accomplishments and milestones hit in 2021, as well as their bold and optimistic resolutions and declarations for the coming year. For grievers, however, this socially sanctioned proof of the passage of time can be complicated. If you’ve lost someone close to you (or experienced another life-altering change, like a divorce or a new diagnosis) in the last year, the world you find yourself in now may look very different to the one you lived in before.
Instead of reflecting on accomplishments, milestones, and fond memories from the preceding year, you may find yourself longing even more intensely for the person, relationship, or lifestyle you’ve lost. As grief writer, speaker, and mental health professional Megan Devine notes, “While the rest of the world seems laser-focused on getting the year over and done with, if your person died this year, leaving 2021 means leaving behind the last year you shared with your person. Turning over a new year can make them feel even further away.” As a result, you may feel slowed down, stuck, or hoping against hope to somehow turn back time and go back to “before.” The prospect of living in a new year - a year your loved one next got to experience - may feel painful, frightening, and wrong.
Many people also feel daunted and intimidated by all the “second firsts” (a term coined by grief advocate Christina Rasmussen) we encounter in life after loss. Second firsts are the life experiences, both big and small, that we’ve done before - the moves, the job interviews, the breakups - that feel so different in our new, post-loss world that we may as well be doing them for the very first time. In addition to these smaller, more mundane life events, there are the bigger, more obvious second firsts - the first birthday celebrations without your loved one; the first holiday season with an empty chair at the table; the first anniversary of your divorce, diagnosis, or other loss. While it is true that most people who experience a loss follow a trajectory of resilience and gradually do begin to re-engage with life, the idea of doing so can feel overwhelming and frightening in the early days of grief.
Likewise, the idea of making plans for the future and setting goals may feel futile after you’ve experienced a life-changing loss. Many grievers say that they used to have a plan for their life, expectations of themselves and other people, and assumptions about how the world tends to operate. Following a significant loss or unexpected life change, many people find that they lose their sense of safety and security in the world, at least in the short-term. These unexpected losses and turns of events can be sobering reminders of the precarious, unpredictable nature of the world we live in. Many grievers find it difficult to feel as though they are on solid ground and worry that the rug could be pulled out from under them at any time… again.
If you find yourself filled with a sense of bitterness and dismissal about other people’s year-end reflections and hopes for the coming year, please understand that you are not selfish, jaded, or cruel. You are not going crazy and you are not stuck; you’re simply grieving. You may feel unmoored because you ARE unmoored right now - everything was turned upside down the moment you lost your person, your relationship, your health. If you find yourself feeling confused and lost as you reflect on the coming year, please know that you are not alone. There is hope, and there are people to walk alongside you as you begin to navigate this post-loss path you never asked for but found yourself on nonetheless. Our counselors can help you work through the pain of your loss, process the ways it’s changed your world and your relationships, and begin to write the first pages of a new story. While no one can take away the weight of your losses, we are ready to hold it with you.