Loss is something that is rarely mentioned during the holiday season when everything is supposed to be just GREAT with little room for less-than-happy emotions. Yet I know a lot of people who are navigating loss and grief from events of the past year. What do you do when you are shaken by the passing of someone —or several people — you loved, whose absence you can’t help be knocked out by?
After her partner passed away, long-time Improvised Life reader Sybille Palmer wrote:
Loss has come to be my teacher.
They are about the wisest words I’ve heard, an insightful and courageous attitude in finding the path through when your world has changed. Just embracing that attitude means not making loss an enemy or something to be shutdown, and being open to its lessons.
Resting. Really taking care and slowing down. Listening carefully to when to lay low and dismantle the “shoulds” in your head, and when to get out of yourself and into something other: friends, art, dinner out, a walk.
Permission to NOT be part of holiday festivities and demands or the way you used to do it can be transformative. If hiding out, or going to the movies, or to bed, or giving gifts some other time (or never) —whatever — helps, give yourself permission to go against the tide.
After her husband’s death, Sybille wrote that she didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner as usual. She and her friend Mary went to the best restaurant in town and “let them spoil us“. She let someone else take care of her.
But she also made sure to care for others. She cooked up a storm “to take to friend’s homes“. “These past months, I have been feeding myself, friends at work, a new neighbor, as well as near strangers. Food is such magic that way, a connector, a way to other people’s hearts.” Feeding and taking care of people can be a mighty antidote.
High on my list is not denying what I feel. Bringing sadness to consciousness, grieving in whatever way works, resting and then figuring out what I really need allows feelings space to transform. And they invariably do.
Second on my list is chosing carefully who I WANT to be with and steering clear of aggressively-cheery people.
My friend Christopher Eldredge, a psychotherapist in New York City, advised connecting to beauty. Anything beautiful, whether in/from Nature or a man-made creation. In New York City, that can include random interactions with strangers that prove quietly uplifting. When he apologized for accidentally jostling a woman in a crowded subway car, she said “Don’t be sorry. We all have to share here.”
Beauty is often free. Look UP and become an ad hoc member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Clouds are ALWAYS there, ready to yield perspective and amazement.
Music is a fine resource. You can access ten full days free of the works by Johann Sebastian Bach’s truly transformative music by tuning into NYC radio station WKCR’s wondrous Bach Festival. Listen to Bach 24/7 from December 22nd through December 31st at 11:59 pm at 89.9 FM or stream it via wkcr.org).
Chris also advised creating new rituals when the old ones have dropped away. By “ritual” he means something as simple as going out to dinner with friends, or anything that is resonant and feels right. Years ago, I replaced many of the holiday “shoulds” I was doing with the old practice of “visiting”: going on a walkabout to see friends. Whatever you do, if it felt good, then perhaps it is something to carry on next year…and gradually it becomes a ritual.
Shortly after her husband died, Sybille wrote: “I am searching for ways to redefine myself. A way to live without the Big Love I used to have for so many years in my life.”
“A way to redefine” means careful listening, caretaking, and willingness to be open to the idea that joy, beauty and kindness can appear randomly to offer respite and healing.
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