While visiting our son this month, I had another moment when the gift of being present revealed itself. In our work, the subject of death and dying is common. When we think of our own demise, it always seems like a lifetime removed from our daily concerns. I had one of those moments of clarity that put life into perspective for me.
As summer turned to fall and fall to winter, I found myself reflecting on coming into the winter of my years. The average age of death for a US citizen is about 80 years old so, for me, the math is simple. 80 years divided by 4 seasons is roughly 20 years per season. With my 62nd birthday just past, I am coming into the last season of my life. While I recoil from the bindings of age upon my body, my mind has to accept that I can’t change time. The number of years, slowly and inexorably, releases those granular events we call memory.
I am still making memories even as I take pleasure in the remembrances of long ago. For example, Nancy and I find joy in growing a garden and canning preserves. We spent most of a weekend creating and processing salsa verde. This, along with all the experiences I have collected through my life, help shape the person I have become. The big and the small events of life are the building blocks that form our personalities. It is slogging through a tedious work week and enjoying weekends, vacations, and times spent with friends. It is every time we have laughed, cried, became infuriated, or felt depressed. It is our responses to the occasions of winning and losing, getting a gift, losing a job, making a baby smile, or learning something new. It is these day-to-day experiences, as well as the big events like births and deaths that, if we are lucky, we realize make us who we are.
For me, recognizing these moments and being open to the experiences that life provides helps me during the holidays. Not all life experiences are positive, but each experience is meant for you. Grief is like that and when it shows up during the holidays consider these thoughts:
Grieving is natural and normal.
You are in a real situation and experiencing a real human process. You are trying to figure out what steps to take next.
Rushing yourself is not helpful.
Take your time. Feel what you feel on your own timeline.
Other people may minimize your experience because they perceive it as an insignificant loss or not a loss at all. Be aware of this in others.
Recognize phrases that are inherently shaming your grief.
Phrases such as: ”Negative thoughts are bad” or “Change your thoughts, change your life” are oversimplifications of complex philosophical ideas. These phrases often come off as oppressive.
Recognize that grief felt at a holiday may feel familiar because it has echoes of other older griefs that we may have experienced. Old grief can be triggered through the physical experiences of new grief situations.
Remember there is a diversity of meaning and experience in each person’s grief.
Those who are grieving are not necessarily grieving the same way as their family or their friends. Do not assume you know what someone is feeling. Exercise curiosity.
If you are feeling grief, don’t forget to tend to your feelings and care for yourself.
When you can’t control what is happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what is happening. That is where your power lies.
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