A new year of grief

Usually I have a blog entry drafted out at the beginning of the month, but December tends to get away from me like that. There’s so much to do—cleaning house, baking all the things, securing rapid tests to take before friends and family descend in (small) droves. I got a booster shot on the 22nd and felt relieved and guilty. I would be further protected against Omicron, contracting and transmitting it, but there are still those people who aren’t eligible for vaccines or who live in countries that have been priced out of vaccinating their population.

In the midst of all this bluster, on the 24th of December (Christmas Eve, if you observe it) my last living grandparent passed away. She had contracted COVID some three or four days earlier, infected by a relative who was unvaccinated—a relative who had helped convince my very stubborn, very Catholic nonna not to get the vaccine. She was 88 and otherwise in good health. I can’t help but hurt from that. It seems so needless, so unfair; I have to actively turn my mind away from thoughts of who deserves what. The holidays were otherwise quiet. Many people suffered similar losses; a 1- or 2-minute check of my socials flooded my timelines with outpourings of grief; relatives, spouses, partners, friends.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

Whether personal or pandemic-sized, grief is heavy. You can spread your grief over an entire world or narrow it down to one acute pain point; either way, the effort of carrying it will wear you down.

In my experience, grief tends to invite anxiety to be its bedfellow. My sorrow spirals into fear, the oppressive weight of sadness fettering me to inaction. Going into the new year like this seems unfair. When we mark the transition from one year to the next, there’s a sense of possibility in the air, an undercurrent of collective galvanization. “Turn over a new leaf!” “Start that project you’ve been putting off!” “Seize the day!” “No time like the present!” But grief is timeless. It erases the significance of the ‘new’ and ‘old’ and demands I sit with it in the now. It’s with me as I plan the year ahead. It’s with me as I reflect on my small wins from the year past. It settles over me if I sit too long, and when I finally muster up some movement, it never lets me forget its presence entirely, even when I’m working.

I was going to write a blog about 2021 and its challenges and triumphs. I was going to write a blog about what I’m looking forward to in 2022 and how I hope to keep growing. But instead I’m offering this little missive about honouring loss.

I think sometimes we believe that if we stop to acknowledge our grief, we’ll never get started again. That the weight of our losses will pull us down. What I’ve found to be true is the opposite: the more you sit with grief and accept it, the more your body learns to bear the burden. If you take the time to adjust to it. If you accept help carrying it from the people who love you. If you greet it like a familiar face, like an old friend, like a mangy cat that twines around your legs mewling for a bowl of something warm. It will fall in line, if you treat it with kindness but don’t build your life around it. Inevitably, it will follow where you go, but the direction you turn toward, the pace at which you walk, the points where you stop to rest, or to plant something that will grow—these decisions are all still yours.

xx Renée

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