Loss, Grief and the Joy That Awaits Us

The year of 2020 has been one for the history books. Every one of us has experienced a gamut of emotions including fear, loss, sadness, despair, hope, gratitude, care, anger, frustration, love, acceptance, longing, grief, compassion, empathy, worry, anxiety, faith and confidence. It was not the best of years. Big changes had to be made and new habits adopted. It is not natural to socially distance for most people. It is not easy to withhold hugs and physical closeness with our family and friends. These are everyday habits that uplift us, support us and make our lives rich and meaningful.

I want to acknowledge our (your) losses this year. Perhaps the loss was from death. Perhaps it was loss of intimacy from an overload of sustained exposure to lockdown and social restrictions. Perhaps it was a loss of employment and financial independence. Perhaps it was loss of travel and social freedoms to go where you wanted. Perhaps it was the loss of your social life or recreational connections. Perhaps it was the loss of seeing/visiting family and friends. Or even the loss of receiving treatments and care in the way you would like or needed it. Children lost ‘normal play’ and natural engagements with other children in many places. These are but a handful of losses we have experienced this year. Some of us have lost intensely and much while others have lost less but feel great empathy for those who lost more.

This time of year offers us, in whatever tradition we may enjoy, a season of hope and light, a season of celebration and ritual, a season of coming together with great efforts towards peace and goodwill, a season of rejoicing and shared generosity with family and the world at large. And so, this season may put our hearts at odd with these two realities, each seeking to be acknowledged and honoured in some way… loss and joy.

Our family’s traditions involved opening presents Christmas eve, celebrating our family time with joy and song and gifting. My father’s last Christmas, my father got a radio. It was 1974 and it was a big deal. He had such a big smile on his face.

Christmas eve, 1975, is a very different memory. Equally short, but without the smiles and laughter. Looking back, I can only imagine what my mother did or would have wanted to do to make this first Christmas without her husband and her children’s father a good one. She bought gifts and followed the traditions of the past that we as a family had created. However, that Christmas eve, I remember my older brother and sister leaving to go snowmobiling with friends shortly after we started opening presents. A brief conversation between my older siblings and my mother occurred, but the choice to get out was made. I could feel the pain in my mother’s heart.

My younger brother and I opened our presents and I remember him not exactly liking what he got. He ‘didn’t really want that’. I heard the pain again in my mother’s and brother’s voices. For my part, I just went quiet, not wanting to ‘be a burden’ and add to the grief and sadness I felt everywhere. There was nothing she could have done to mend the pain in all our hearts. There was no tradition she could have repeated that would have stopped each of us from expressing our grief and loss in the way we each did. No material gift could fix the pain of a father gone. For all of us, in our own way, it was a most difficult Christmas, because we faced a reality that would never be different. My father wasn’t coming back.

In my mother’s wisdom, she recognized this huge loss for us all. She recognized what would never be again. Rather than try to hang onto the past, we began to change our Christmas traditions to reflect the family we were post my father’s death. It took us several years, but as we grew into teenagers, my mother invited us to share in the responsibilities of making Christmas ‘our celebration.’ And we did. I have fond memories of our family Christmases. As the years passed, my mother invited widowers who had lost spouses or those who did not have ‘family’. My siblings and I never objected. We remembered those first Christmases after our father died.

As our family grew, grandchildren arrived, siblings moved, things changed, our tradition continues to evolve. Hope and love continue to flow and bring new meaning and light to our lives. This is some of what I learned in that journey:

  1. Like that first year, we must remember that everyone is hurting during this pandemic in some way because loss has been experienced by us all this year.
  2. We all process our own grief and pain differently. There is no one way.
  3. Learn to release resentments for how others express their loss and pain. Forgive them for the pain that was caused. Nothing good can come out of holding on to your resentments.
  4. Acknowledge those who are facing a significant loss this year and invite them for a walk or bring a tea and join them on the porch. Their hearts are broken.
  5. Play is necessary to maintain mental-emotional wellness. Both the day of my father’s funeral and that first Christmas after, when I was 11 years old, I asked my friends and cousins to go outside and play with me. At the funeral, we ran across the road to the public school and played in the playground. That Christmas, I remember my cousins and us going tobogganing, a Christmas ritual. Play resets and regroups the nervous system and the spirit.
  6. Have genuine hope that with the courage and commitment to take steps forward each day, and in making changes to meet the current needs of the people still here, new life, new joys and the flow of love can be restored and re-created.
  7. The new way may have little resemblance to what once was, and yet where love is real, the new way is built upon the shoulders of what was. The deeper threads of love and connection remain flowing from the past, opening to the mystery and creative dreams still meant to be lived in the future. Embrace the change calling you. More joy awaits.

Whether you celebrate Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, be kind to all you meet. Be gentle with your hearts. Acknowledge that your loss and fatigue is real, and it is real for others too. These losses are re-shaping our lives.

I read there is an extraordinary miracle happening in our celestial skies this season. It seems to me that in our very darkness, a little extra light is given to us. “As 2020 comes to a close, the solar system has decided to grace us with a cosmic Christmas miracle that hasn’t been witnessed [visible] in nearly 800 years. On Dec. 21st (aka the Winter Solstice), Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in the night sky that they’ll almost appear to collide from our vantage point here on Earth, creating a radiant point of light often referred to as the “Star of Bethlehem” or the “Christmas Star.”

I hope that light and beauty will return—in a new way. And embrace the change that this year is asking of you. You never know where the new road will take you. Joys await us all. Peace.


Shirley Lynn