I made Christmas cookies yesterday, which always makes me nostalgic. Mom used to make ten or fifteen types of cookies; she made some of the same kind every year but she also liked to experiment with a new recipe or two every year. I remember what the shelf looked like with all the cookie tins arrayed on it so beautifully, colored lights strung around it, and the Christmas tree glowing in the living room.
We each had our favorite kinds that we grabbed first and ate the most of. I remember my dad getting one cookie at a time and sitting down with it. When he had methodically, slowly finished that cookie, he would get up and get another, joking that the exercise expended in getting up took care of each cookie’s calories. Christmas was a good time in our family.
I only made two kinds of cookies this year – I don’t have Mom’s dedication. I used to make three kinds – two of my favorites and one of Dad’s. I got used to bringing a box of them over to Dad in his home every year for him to enjoy, and to share with the other residents. I didn’t make his favorite this year and I’m definitely sad that I won’t be bringing them over and sitting down to watch him eat and enjoy them.
As a grief counselor, one of the more important concepts we share with people is that of the importance of the Year – mindfully observing the turn of an entire year without a loved one. It’s necessary for the bereavement process to experience each holiday, event, and anniversary for the first time without the person you’ve lost. You have to feel within yourself how things are going to be different. It’s a really difficult slog but once you’ve done that, the grieving typically becomes a little easier.
I’ve suffered loss before, and done the Year, but this one feels different. It might seem like it would be easier since my mom has been gone for a long time, and I’ve been grieving Dad’s loss gradually over the years – and there is some truth in that. But I’m also grieving some other losses this year: marital separation; being in a new house after being in my old one for almost seven years; and not being a caregiver anymore – doing my old job. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many losses to deal with at the same time.
It doesn’t help that this is the biggest “family” holiday of the year, and that everything – everywhere – is trying to convince you that you’re only a worthwhile person if you have a loving, close family, or a special someone to cuddle up to as the snow falls outside. I’m trying to just enjoy the lights, the glitter, and the big hearts, while discarding the subversive messages! Ugh.
Once December is over, I’ll be halfway done with the Year – thank goodness – as well as what can be the toughest holiday when you’re grieving. I hope and believe it will be easier next year. The underlying point is that everything now is going to be different because I am different. As each part of the year rolls on – holidays, anniversaries – I’m doing it for the first time as things are now, as the person I am now.
I read that the point of grief work is to regain connection with the self – inside – rather than increase our attachment to what was lost. This strikes me as so true. I know I don’t want Dad back (no doubt he is transcendent wherever he is), nor do I want to be back in my old house or life. I have to learn who I am now, and learn about and integrate all of the new parts of my Self with the old.
Because at the end of the Year, or ten years, when the grief eases and everyone has moved on… you are what you have left. It seems like a good idea to be comfortable with yourself; that way, when loss happens again, as it will, you’ll be reasonably well-equipped to take it on. So far this Year, I have found out about myself that I’m still capable of losing and living, and that I have a capacity to open up to the abundant love around me that I never quite had before.
So to all of those people who are grieving a new loss this year, hang in there. Whether you have only one holiday or anniversary to go – or all of them – the Year will do what it does and keep on turning. Eventually, that first Year will be over and you will have learned something new about yourself; that you’re stronger than you thought, that you enjoy your own company, that you’re ready to get out there in the world and try something new.
As for myself, I’m going to continue waiting out the Year, learning what I’m learning, feeling the love of my community. For the next few weeks, I’m going to keep enjoying the lights and the glitter, keep turning my head from the holiday ads and the overly idealized representations of Love and Family, and keep eating the cookies. Because I’m getting to know myself all over again, and my Self really loves and needs cookies – a lot of cookies.