On Grief and Ringing in the New Year Without a Loved One
After losing my son shortly before the holidays four years ago, I was surprised to discover I dreaded New Year’s Day as intensely as I had dreaded Christmas without Mikey. For some reason, the clock turning over to a new year seemed incomprehensible. It was as if Mikey’s death had suddenly become “a thing of the past,” while my grief was still excruciatingly raw in the present. I didn’t want a new year to begin; a year which Mikey would never be a part of. I didn’t want to start saying, “He died in 2008,” as if time had already healed my freshly wounded heart and I could reference his life as if I was talking about my senior prom; as if it was just a part of previous years gone by.
Death and break-ups can be very similar in some ways. While losing a child is the most horrific loss I’ve ever faced, I have experienced lingering pain from losing loves in romantic break-ups which rivaled my lingering pining for Mikey. I’m not saying grief from a romantic break-up remotely resembles the pain of losing a loved one to death, but losing a relationship with someone you love is one of the most painful ordeals in life, no matter how that loss is incurred.
Ringing in a new year always brings memories of the previous year, and those memories can become daggers tearing through a heart that’s already hemorrhaging. Often times, it’s not the memories themselves, but the absence of memories that were supposed to have been created. It may come in the form of presents that you had carefully selected and lovingly wrapped for that person, which are still sitting there unopened. Or the plans for the holiday vacation you had already made with that person which will never come to fruition. The following is an excerpt from a chapter about grieving relationships from my forthcoming book, as yet untitled:
Whether your loss is through death or break-up, your mind becomes filled with shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. Even more painfully, you have all the, “We were supposed to’s.”
We were supposed to go camping this summer, or go to Paris next year, or go to the ballgame next weekend. We were supposed to get married after she finished school. We were supposed to go skiing over Christmas break. We were supposed to live happily ever after.
And then you have the “I had already gotten’s.”
I had already gotten us tickets for that, or gotten his birthday present, or gotten a loan for her surgery. I had already gotten a new dress to wear to the formal with him, or gotten my nails done for our big date, or gotten her favorite candy for her Christmas stocking.
Rounding out those thoughts, you have the “I promised” or “They promised” statements.
I promised Mikey I would take him fishing with our new poles on my next weekend off. He had strung the line on the poles and carefully tied the weights and hooks on them after our shopping excursion to his favorite sporting goods store. I can still see him sitting on the couch, patiently tucking my hook around my pole so I wouldn’t get pricked. My pole was the pink one. When I absent-mindedly ran my hand across it months after he died, I felt a murderous stab of anguish in my gut that literally doubled me over in pain.
Sudden flashes of “I promised” memories bring you right down to your knees. And then haltingly, the sobs come. Your insides are knotted up so tight that you can’t seem to get your lungs to expand to catch a breath in between. Your body seems frozen mid-sob, with no sound coming from you, no ability to breathe, and a frozen expression of agony threatens to permanently contort your face. You lay there in a crumpled heap until the tears make your face raw and the guttural moans have reduced themselves to random hiccupped whimpers. And then you slowly realize you’re freezing cold, shivering on the floor of the garage where you’re still clutching the pink fishing pole. We were supposed to go fishing on my next weekend off. I promised.
These are the private moments of hell that we all go through when we are grieving the loss of a loved one, whether through death or break-up. If you see yourself in the above scenarios, please know that you are not alone, and others like me have survived to see the lightness of a new day, a new year of happy beginnings. So while others around you are cheerfully toasting in the New Year, it’s okay to be human and mourn the loss of the old year. Misery does not always love company, but misery always has company!
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