As the year comes to a close, articles and advertisements about ringing in the New Year are sure to include suggestions for making and sticking with resolutions. Resolutions can be concrete — exercise three times a week — or abstract — be more compassionate and patient. Unfortunately, many resolutions become just another reason to judge ourselves as not good enough. Sound familiar? Grief lends itself to a similar set-up. Kids of all ages, along with adults, often worry they aren’t grieving the right way. They fear crying too much or not enough. They give themselves a hard time for thinking about the person all the time, but then feel guilty if they think about anything else. It can become a perpetual self-blame scenario, leaving those in grief convinced they don’t measure up. With that tendency in mind, we offer the idea of shifting away from resolutions to setting intentions related to grief, with lots of permission to change your mind and rework those intentions as the year unfolds.
Unlike a garage, grief isn’t something to be managed or organized. It is a wildly complex mix of unpredictable and always changing emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Given that, you can set an intention to create a supportive relationship with your grief, regardless of how it’s manifesting in the moment. What would it look like to set New Year’s intentions related to grief? One idea is to make or buy a calendar for mapping out events and occasions connected to your loss.
Here are some categories to consider:
1. Particularly poignant days or times of year. No matter how long it’s been since someone died, there may be times that bring grief into sharp focus. It might be the anniversary of the death or days related to a diagnosis, accident, or major change in health, the person’s birthday, your birthday, a holiday, or any other day that is meaningful for you and your relationship with the person who died. Often the lead up can be even more difficult than the day itself, catching people off guard until they make the connection. Planning ahead and being aware of these days might not lessen sadness, anger, or heartbreak, but can reduce the confusion around why those feelings are intensified.
2. Specific tasks related to the loss you want to start or complete. There is no timeline for the emotions and logistics of grief. When it comes to sorting through belongings, deciding what to do with your loved ones cremated ashes, responding to friends and family, and attending to other bureaucratic tasks, going at the pace which is right for you is what’s really important.
3. Self-care activities that are truly restorative and nourishing. Self-care is as varied as we are. What brings comfort and energy to one person can spark the opposite for another. As you sort through self-care ideas, consider what helps your body, mind, and spirit. If you have children, talk with them about self-care and ideas they have for what to do when they need support. Examples of self-care for kids include: take a few deep breaths, read a story alone or with someone else, snuggle with a favorite stuffed animal, play outside, do 10 jumping jacks, color, or look at a special photo of the person who died.
4. Grief breaks and time for recreation and fun. How has grief changed your relationship with fun and recreation? Do you worry that you are dishonoring the person or your grief if you find yourself feeling good? Many people struggle with giving themselves permission to laugh and experience positive emotions. If you have children, talk as a family about activities that foster laughter and ease (going to the park, watching silly movies or videos, playing board games, etc). For some, being intentional with these activities helps reduce feelings of guilt around having fun again.
5. Rituals to remember and honor the person who died. Many participants in our support groups appreciate having dedicated time for remembering the person who died and thinking about how grief is affecting them. Scheduling remembrance events such as looking through photographs, lighting a candle, watching videos, listening to voicemails, visiting the gravesite or other place connected to the person, telling someone new about the death and the person, and getting together with friends and family to share memories are a few examples, but don’t feel constrained by these ideas. Go at your own pace. If looking at photos is important to you, maybe start with one or two and try adding more as the weeks go by.
When it comes to marking these different events, days, and plans in your calendar, be as creative (or not) as you like. Do you want to plan out the entire year or does going month to month seem more feasible? If planning specifics feels too confining or overwhelming, consider assigning certain days of the week for different categories without deciding ahead of time exactly what you’ll do. Maybe reserve Tuesdays for self-care, Thursdays for a remembrance ritual, and Saturdays for recreation and fun. If you have children, consider creating a family calendar and brainstorm ideas for personalizing each person’s contributions (color coded, initials, special stickers). If the calendar is just for you, consider ways to personalize it with color, textures, or anything else that comes to mind. Remember, it’s okay to change your mind and rework plans.
Want to share your grief intentions calendar with us? Take a photo and post it on our Facebook page - we’d love to see what you create.