December 26: Relearning the World


When does the grieving end?
What do we do with our grief now?
Time does restore to us our quiet joy in the spiritual presence of those we love, so that we learn to remember without pain, and to speak without choking up with tears. But all our lives we will be subject to sudden small reminders which will bring all of the old loss back overwhelmingly. Elizabeth Watson

Many years ago my mother gave me a little Christmas pin in the shape of a striped candy cane cat with a green bow on its tail. It wasn’t expensive but I loved it. Every year I wore it on my coat and people frequently commented on its charming appearance.

During the second Christmas season after Mom's death, I lost the pin. It fell off my coat while I was running holiday errands. I retraced my steps, gave my name and number to all the retail lost-and-found departments, and of course, I never saw it again.

I came home after my frantic search and cried as though Mom had died yesterday. She was gone and now so was her little candy cane cat. The piece of jewelry had no monetary value but it was priceless to me. Losing the pin that Mom gave me symbolized the loss of my mother at Christmas. I was caught off guard by the raw force of grief two years after her death.

Sudden small reminders, and large ones, too, can overwhelm us at this festive time of year. We thought we were doing better, but here we are, crying as though our loss was yesterday. If our loss was recent, we almost expect the intensity of new grief. If it was a while ago, we are often surprised by the powerful emotions of grief bursts.

We are relieved that the season is almost over because we no longer feel pressured to make merry. But we are about to enter another year without the physical presence of our loved one and Christmas doesn't mend a broken heart. What do we do with our grief now?

Piece by piece, I am relearning the world. The razor’s edge of grief, so sharp at Christmastime, has given way to the dull ache of permanent loss. Despite my sorrow, I have had moments of unexpected comfort throughout the holiday season: the contented purr of my cat, red cardinals
 against the backdrop of a gray winter day, the beauty of twinkling Christmas lights on a clear moonlit night, a book of hope and healing, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning, a heartfelt letter from a dear friend and the gratitude of a widow when I invited her to dinner. I used to take small comforts for granted. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.

Sometimes, when I am alone and missing her the most, I stop my activities and call out: Where are you, Mom? What are you doing this very moment? Are you with Dad? I love you both. Can you hear me? If I am able to quiet myself enough to listen, I sense that the answer is a resounding Yes! And I feel at peace.

May you, too, find unexpected comfort and loving memories as you relearn the world through all
the seasons of your grief. 

Thirteen years later...

I wrote this page during the first and second Christmas seasons after Mom died. I no longer dread Christmas. I still feel some sadness because I will always miss her, but the horrific images of my mother’s suffering at Christmas have been eased by the warm memories of how much she loved the season. Maybe Christmas returned for me because there were births in my family and young life makes me smile. Maybe relearning the world just takes time…

If you find yourself contemplating a new year without your loved one, try Focused Expressive Writing. It is a specific method of writing about the complex emotions of grief for insight and healing.

Go to next section: Kindred Spirits (Pet Loss)

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How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
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