Last New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair at our home, some fun and some shared reflections. A long-time friend who lost her husband 4 ½ half years ago was over for dinner with her new partner. They are a lovely couple and we are happy for them.
None the less, when we began reflecting on the past year and the one ahead I was taken aback by the emotional tsunami that swept over me. I felt a great happiness for our friends as they spoke of all the changes their new relationship had brought over the past year and the hopes and dreams they have for their life together in the future. But I also felt something else.
In reflecting on the year past, I was truly thankful for the way Winnipeg has begun to feel like home – the way I am beginning to feel connected again. I was full of joy when I remembered the many times we were able to get together and do so many things with our children and grandchildren. And the way old friendships and family connections have been rekindled and strengthened has warmed my heart. Their openness to be with us, to simply ask what they can do to help, or even to suggest ways in which they’d like to support us is more than I had dared hope. Plus the medical and home support we have received this past year has been more than I thought possible a year ago.
So, yes, I had lots to reflect on and appreciate from the year 2013. However, when I asked myself what I was looking forward to in 2014, my mind went blank. What was I looking forward to??? The wave, the undeniable fact that my husband’s dementia was going to continue to get worse – that he’d lose more ground, hit me full force. And all of a sudden I felt an aching sadness – a deep sense of loss.
Now, in the past, I’d have berated myself for having a “pity-party” and have searched for something positive that I could latch onto, something, anything that I could look forward to. But at that moment, I could think of nothing. Absolutely nothing!
And maybe that was a good thing. As I’ve learned to trust myself to navigate my inner landscape I’ve found that it’s okay to let myself be sad, to allow myself to grieve when sadness about what is happening to my husband and our life together arises. And so, rather than chastise myself and find something positive (however inauthentic) to say, I quietly let myself be aware of the sadness that was in my heart.
I used to fear that letting myself feel sad was dangerous, that I could somehow drop off a cliff into a slough of despondency and depression. But that’s not what happens. When I listen to my sadness, it’s as if she no longer has to hold on so tight. It’s as if she has been heard and accepted. Somehow, usually after a short time, my sadness begins to soften, and, while I’m still aware of the sadness, I begin to feel other feelings once more.
So feeling sad on New Year’s Eve was okay. I felt my sadness. But I wasn’t overwhelmed. And, as the evening progressed I was aware of other feelings as well. I felt joy for the happiness of our friends, and for the wonderful blessings the year past has given us. True, I wasn’t able to share anything I was looking forward to, but there seemed to be no need to do so.
And then, as our friends left, I let myself reflect more on my renewed feelings of sadness and loss. I didn’t force myself to “get over it” or “move on”. I was just gently there with my grief as I tidied up and got ready for bed. And then, just as I was getting into bed, the sadness began to lift. And, as it did, I remembered a very special event I was looking forward to next fall. Joy and hope was returning as I drifted peacefully off to sleep.
The next morning, when I woke up, I remembered last night’s sadness. It seems to me that these short times of grieving may very well be keeping me happy and healthy. For, if I didn’t deal with my sadness and loss, if instead I pushed it down and refused to listen, I would no doubt be setting myself up for a major crash. Sadness is an amazingly powerful emotion, powerful enough even to block my anticipation of our daughter’s wedding next fall. In the light of day I knew that the many blessings I have appreciated this past year, and no doubt many of which I am unaware will also be with me as we move forward into the New Year. I do have a lot to look forward to. So, 2014, here we come!