DSC00613I’ve had a lot of friends and clients and connections lately struggling with finding their way again after some sort of loss – death of a child, divorce, death of a partner, lost jobs.

It’s not an easy place to be.

Where do you find motivation and interest and ambition again when all you feel is weighed down by grief and anxiety and numbness?

I wish I could say I have all the answers. That I could say, “Here, take my 5 step How-To course and everything will be great again!”

Anyone who tells you that is full of shit.

I don’t have all the answers. No one does, because everyone’s answers are different.

That doesn’t mean that the answers aren’t out there and that you can’t find them. You can. You find them in yourself. And while I don’t have all the answers, I have a few suggestions for where to start. (I’ve done this starting anew thing a time or two myself!).

Let Grief Flow

Few of us actually take the amount of time we actually need to truly grieve and say good-bye to what was or could have been. Society puts a lot of pressure on those dealing with loss to move on, quickly and quietly, so that no one gets uncomfortable.

The reality is, particularly with the death of someone we love, grief can weave its way through our life forever. The initial intensity will fade and life will get easier to handle, but for some losses, that grief will never fully be complete. It will show up in expected and unexpected ways until the day we leave this earth.

So, it’s not about grieving and getting over that grief. It’s about learning to live with it. To accepting it’s presence as part of the process of living and walking with it through life.

Grief comes from loss, yes, but grief is a sign of living. It’s a sign of love. Grief is not the enemy. It is living love.

When we truly stop resisting grief’s flow in our lives, grief will stop sucking away every last bit of energy and light and interest in life.

In fact, sometimes, if we allow it to do it’s thing, grief can often help us find our way to whatever comes next.

Forget purpose, be curious

If you have any kind of spiritual bent at all, often you’ll hear talk of “finding your purpose” and “finding the meaning in your life or experience.”

Life has been turned upside down and perhaps what we thought WAS our purpose or meaning in life has suddenly been yanked out from under us. Suddenly, we’re supposed to find a new purpose or meaning? Talk about pressure.

Fuck that.

Forget about purpose or meaning or any of that heavy shit.

Just be curious. Be curious about life. Be curious about what makes you feel even a little bit better (or simply less awful). Be curious about who you are becoming. Be curious about what life could be like now. Be curious about how you feel. Be curious about what peaks your interest, even the slightest nudge of interest.

Take the pressure off and follow the twisty path of curiosity. Where your curiosity is taking you might not make any sense – at least not for a while. That’s totally ok. It doesn’t have to.

I promise these random things you follow with curiosity will come together and make sense at some point! Then again, perhaps the randomness of it all will what is amazing about it 🙂

And who knows, following your curiosity might even lead to a new purpose or meaning.

Or not.

Play with Experimenting

Along the same lines as curiosity, make life an experiment. I think too often we get so serious about life and everything then becomes almighty important and BIG.

Life really doesn’t have to be such a big, heavy, serious thing.

What if life was just an experiment?

Experiments have no right or wrong answers. There are no real mistakes. There is only exploration and new information and following the flow of what we find.

If you are experimenting, you don’t have to have the answers. You don’t have to know what’s going to happen. You don’t have to figure it all out.

You just try things. You play with what you are curious about. You see what happens and then decide what’s next from whatever happens.

No pressure. No end of the world feeling is something doesn’t work out quite the way we expected.

Just an experiment. And who knows what might happen. . .

Rinse and repeat until sticking

It seems really simple. Almost too simple.

Let Grief Flow.
Be Curious.
Play with Experimenting.

And as the shampoo bottle says, rinse and repeat as needed.

Until something sticks. Until something calls to you and reignites that fire of life inside you. Until life feels interesting and motivating again. Until ambition pokes it’s head up and says “hey there” again.

Shouldn’t rebuilding our lives be, I don’t know, more than that? That’s the question that runs thought my mind sometimes.

But truly, not really.

This process has worked for me over and over. It might not give me, or you, all the answers.

But it might give us the ones we need.

CIMG0542I’ve started getting holiday cards with smiling faces of families and holiday greetings in the mail.

They arrive in brightly colored envelopes of red and green and silver.

Sometimes they make me smile.

I enjoy seeing updated pictures of friends and family. It’s fun to see how the kids have grown over the year for families who live many miles away that that I rarely get to see. I like reading the family update letters often included and hearing what they’ve been up to throughout the year.

These cheery pictures and busy updates also make my heart ache.

I never send holiday cards.

I ache to have my own family holiday cards with happy (and probably silly) photos of my little family to share. I long to be able to write all our names along the bottom – with love from Emily, Ryan, Grace and Lily and the four-leggeds (because my kids would have pets to play and cuddle with).

It hurts my heart too deeply to send cards empty of my family’s images and signed only by me. I never had the chance to send a holiday card with pictures and updates with any of my family members. They all died before the holidays ever came around to create them.

I tried one year to send picture-less cards to those I loved. Tears flowed every time I signed my name and saw it there alone.

With every card that comes in my mailbox, come delight and grief in equal measure. Gratitude for those I love and the beauty of their families and the longing of my heart thumping painfully with every envelope of red and green and silver.

Every year I can’t help but wonder,

What would life be had they lived?
Who would they be?
What would the holidays be like with my family here with me?

You may never notice the absence of my little family’s card in your mailbox.

But I do.

Grief In bonesSince the death of my fiancé and my daughters, grief has become part of who I am. Grief is as much a part of me as my red curly hair, blue eyes, and freckled skin. It lingers in the sound of my voice and the tears that fall from my eyes.

People typically don’t like to hear me say that. Our culture wants to look at grief as something that comes briefly and then vanishes back into nothingness. Those who haven’t experienced it’s depth and power want to make it something insignificant and small, a temporary blip on the path of life soon to be forgotten.

That is not what grief is.

Grief is a fire that has forged me into who I am and whose embers still smolder in my bones. It’s flames tore through my life and erased in smoke the person I was and the wife and mother I might have become.

Grief made me someone new. I am born of the heat and formed from the ashes. I will never be the same. In surrendering to the fire of grief, I was burned down to the very essence of myself.

Breath.
Bone.
Heart.

Humanness.

Grief is powerful and destructive. That is it’s very nature.

It will burn and shatter and consume the person that we were before the ones we loved so very much were taken from our arms.

Grief is part of me. It lives in my very bones.

But grief is not all of me.

For all of it’s power and destruction, grief cannot touch the essence of me. It cannot take my breath. My bone. My heart. My humanity.

It can never take my humanity, for humanity is love.

Love is the rain and tears that fall to bank down the fire.
Love is the air that cools the heat and clears the smoke.
Love is the earth, scorched and blackened, but never beaten by the flames.
Love is the life that sprouts and grows after the fire has blazed across the landscape.

Love is what overcomes the fire of grief.

Love for the one who was lost.
Love for the ones who remain breathing, living, standing.
Love for myself, the me forged in the heat of the flames and reborn of the ashes.

Yes, grief is part of who I am. It lives in the very bones of me.

So does love. Love is my very essence. Love is as much a part of me as the red curls on my head, the blue of my eyes, and the freckles on my skin. Love is the joy and the laughter and the lightness that bubble within me. Love is the ocean and river currents that sooth the embers burning in my bones.

I am grief and I am love in equal measure.

I was born of the ashes.
I bloom among the embers.

Let’s be real.

The holidays can be a bitch after the death of someone we love.

It’s been 13 years since my little family died and I still wrestle with finding peace during the holiday season. Even now, it’s a tangled mess of emotions – longing, joy, sorrow, gratitude, grief, and loneliness.

The bombardment of shiny, happy families in commercials. Cheesy holiday movies vomiting out endless everything-works-out happy endings. People talking about making memories and wrapping gifts for their kids and plans to visit family.

Sometimes, I can find a bit of holiday cheer – twinkle lights, hot cocoa, and gratitude for all that I do have.

Other times, it’s all I can do not to sob my way through the months of November and December with the constant reminders of the family I lost.

Still, I have learned a few tricks to make the season less dark and gloom and a little more peaceful and light. Perhaps, if you’re struggling with grief and loss this season, some of what I learned will make the holidays even a little bit more bearable.

1. Be selfish

Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be the season of giving and selflessness.

Whatever.

When it comes to surviving the holidays after profound loss, all the “rules” to proper etiquette can be dumped in the trash. (Although, I have to admit, I’m not one to bother much with rules of etiquette regardless!)

Truly, you deserve to be well tended and loved. Especially now.

It may not always be easy to do, but take time for yourself. Give yourself the love and space and pampering you need to face the stuff you can’t avoid – memories, empty chairs, demanding family, etc.

Maybe you steal 15 minutes in the bathroom reading a book. Maybe you treat yourself to a massage. Maybe you take yourself out the the movies. Maybe you order take-out so you have one less thing to do every day.

Or maybe loving yourself looks like crying. Maybe it’s telling a trusted friend just how hard the holidays are this year. Maybe it’s saying no to some or all of the festive holiday gatherings.

Maybe it’s all or none of the above. Your needs are unique.

But take time for you. Be selfish. Ask yourself, what do I need right now in this moment – and then give yourself permission to give it yourself.

2. Find ways to remember and honor

One of the hardest parts about the holidays after a significant loss can be how people seem to forget the one we love and miss so deeply.

We’re struggling to make it through the day with painful reminders of chairs that won’t be filled, memories that won’t be made, and traditions that won’t be fulfilled. Yet it can sometimes seem like everyone else had forgotten or doesn’t care.

The truth is there are many reasons why people may not bring up our deceased loved one. Perhaps they feel like doing so would cause us more pain. Perhaps it makes them uncomfortable to remember. Perhaps they simply don’t understand the importance of acknowledging your loved one this season. Or perhaps they really have simply forgotten as unfathomable as that feels to you.

So, take charge. Bring a candle to light in memory of your precious loved one at the table. Ask that a place be set for them even though their body won’t fill it. Request a moment of silence to remember them. Ask others to share memories with you.

Whatever it is that would help you to bringing your loved one into your holiday, do that. What others think or respond to your actions and requests is their business, not yours. You do what you need to do and let them handle their own feelings about it. They’ll manage, I promise. Just like you are.

3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel

Grief is powerful. It’s also a bit of a sneaky bastard.

It can sneak up and knock us to our knees when least expected. You are feeling ok, maybe even good, and then out of seeming nowhere – boom! Tears and grief and that terrible burning emptiness around your heart.

Allow it. Let it roll through you without resistance – it’s the only way it will move through.

Breathe.
Feel.
Breathe some more.

Cry if you need to. Wail and scream if you need to. Give in to fits of slightly hysterical laughter of you need to.

And smile when you can. Laugh when you are able. Feel ok or even good when that is your truth.

Chances are you’ll feel it all before the holidays are done for this year. Give those feeling space to be and they will move like waves, crashing and then ebbing away.

4. Banish the “shoulds”

This goes back to the idea of allowing selfishness again.

There can be a lot of demands and expectations that come with the holidays – sometimes from others and sometimes from ourselves.

Here’s something I’ve learned that has helped immensely. If a demand or expectation comes with an underlying “should,” run like hell. Shoulds are misery making.

“I should go to XYZ because. . .”
“I should give XYZ because. . .”
“I should be XYZ. . .”
“I should feel XYZ. . .”

Or, from others
“You should be . . .”
“You have to do XYZ . . .” (Have to is just another masked should)
“You should feel . . .”

No. No is a perfectly acceptable sentence to say this holiday season.

Truly, there are very, very few things that you absolutely HAVE to do when it comes to the holidays. Most are simply more of those social or family rules of etiquette – and life will not end of those are broken.

Yes, people might raise a fuss or not understand when you say no or you express feelings they don’t like. That’s their business. You can kindly and politely say no and do what you need to do for you.

5. Focus on the love

Love for yourself.
Love for the one you are missing.
Love for the people around you.

Sometimes love isn’t all twinkle lights and shiny packages.

Sometimes love is saying no. Sometimes love is tears and leaving an empty chair. Sometimes love is setting boundaries. Sometimes love is letting other know the truth of how you really feel rather than protecting them.

If ever in doubt about how to handle something this holiday season, ask yourself this:

What feels like love?
What would love do here?

Let that be enough.

Now, this is far from an exhaustive list on how to navigate and survive the holidays without those we love so deeply. There are a million ways to do it because everyone’s way is a little different.

Take what works and leave the rest. In the end, it’s about trusting and loving yourself.

Do what you need to do for you.

And know you are not alone. We’re here.

don't buy into the lies of griefDon’t buy into the lies of grief.

Grief is a wiley, slippery creature – full of lies and half-truths.

When grief crashes into our life, it whispers lies.

“You will always feel this way.”
“This pain will never ease.”
“Your life is doomed with darkness and pain and bitter sorrow.”
“You will never get away from me.”
“You alone feel this terrible pain.”

Lies.

Seductive, tempting, devastating lies.

It’s true, there is loss and sorrow and tears and pain. Life will rarely go as planned.

However, in the midst of your grief, when you look upon the glossy, shining pictures that others present to the world and it seems that you alone are entrenched in this coffin of unending pain and darkness and desolation – remember, grief lies.

Behind every glossy picture portraying only joy and light and sweetness is a life that hasn’t gone as planned.

No one gets through life unscarred or unscathed.

We all bear the marks of warriors – survivors of devastation and loss and sorrow in all its various forms. In time, grief marks us all.

No, life rarely goes as planned for anyone. It is a winding road of contradiction: light and shadows, laughter and sorrow, faith and doubt, adventure and insecurity, success and failure, love and loss.

Life will fall apart. It does for everyone. In those moments, grief lies. Grief tells us we will be left in pieces and parts for all of eternity. It whispers of never-ending pain and tears.

But grief lies.

We will stitch ourselves back together with threads of fierceness, love, bravery, unshakable optimism, and sheer stubbornness. Light will punch through the black and dark. Love will fill the gaps of loss. Sprouts of life will poke through the desolate, barren landscape.

We are all a beautiful mess, stitched back together from the chaos.

Don’t buy into the lies of grief.

You are a beautiful mess of contradictions. It is what makes you alive.


 

Have you heard about my new book yet? “Invisible Mothers” is now available as a voice of the beautiful mess that is motherhood when all your babies have died. Filled with words of bravery, loss, grief, joy, and unshakable love it brings comfort to grieving mamas and understanding for those who love them. Grab your copy here.


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