A number of my friends and acquaintances lost close loved ones this year and are experiencing their first holiday season without them. Today I write from the depths of my heart and the canyon of my own experience to assure you that the pain of loss will not always feel so acute and raw. Time is your friend. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you love them any less. It means you have found new ways to hold the relationship and to integrate what you loved most about them into your life. In other words, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of grief that leaves all the love intact and even helps it to grow.
It feels like a miracle when I acknowledge the contrast between how I feel now and how I felt during The Grieving Years (2014-2017) that followed my mom’s death and included my dad’s, as well. This past summer, it felt like the grieving chapter finally and mercifully had run its course.
The transformation really hit me the other night when I drove home from work past a house with battery-powered candles glowing in each window like my parents had during the holiday season. It reminded me of their home and how joyful and welcoming it felt. In the past, that would have triggered a round of sad tears and missing my parents. But instead of feeling sad and mourning what’s missing now or dreading another holiday season without them, it’s like I walked through their front door and into their warm home and felt nourished and comforted all over again.
Even if it’s just a fleeting thought or feeling, I love that memories of my parents can lift me up and make me feel more connected to them rather than bring me down. I’m grateful that such thoughts can elicit tears of joy and appreciation instead of sadness. That was not the case when grief was fresh.
Everyone’s journey through grief is different. However, it calls each of us to grow and expand in some way. We say that our loved one will always live on in our heart. And we can get in touch with that place in us where what we loved most about them resides and give it new life, through us. We can keep their beautiful qualities alive in the world by watering those seeds they planted in us.
My journey through grief included: feeling the chasm of separation and loss, acknowledging my parents’ best qualities and appreciating them like never before (as if seeing them for the first time), letting go of the resistance and allowing some of those qualities to develop in myself, doing a little weeding, and integrating my parents’ most appreciated qualities into my life in a way that feels right and balanced.
It also involved hearing their voices in my heart and learning how to use that heart connection as a new kind of telephone that allows direct communication whenever I need or want it. The bottom line is that I now realize the distance between us is non-existent. They are part of me. I’ve never felt closer to them, and our relationship has never been better. Seriously.
In the past four years, I’ve let go of a lot of baggage around my parents that I couldn’t release while they were alive. A lot of resistance I carried my whole adult life. Notions about how I couldn’t share qualities with them. The programming went something like this: If Mom or Dad is X, then I am not-X. There were lots of qualities I split myself off from because of this programming that developed early in life as a coping mechanism but resulted in spending most of my adult life shooting myself in the foot!
This is deep stuff that grief helped me to unearth. It’s kind of amazing to finally drop your lifelong resistance to someone or something and reclaim the parts of yourself that you split yourself off from for good reasons back then that don’t serve you now.
When people are alive and we interact with their personality patterns, we might put up walls that don’t allow us to see the person’s essence. We hold ourselves in a pattern of resistance. When they pass away, we don’t interact with their personality anymore and can experience their deeper essence. Our relationship doesn’t end when the person dies. It continues. But what’s happened for me is that I have a relationship with my parents’ essence now, rather than just their personality that I used to bump up against. To relate to someone’s essence is very healing.
I have integrated my parents’ finest energy and qualities into myself and have never felt closer to them or more whole. It’s not that I love them any less. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to open to them more. I don’t resist them like I did when they were in physical form.
Last night at bedtime, I used up the very last drops of the peppermint foot lotion my mom gave me for Christmas five years ago. Instead of feeling sad about having one less thing from her, I decided to buy some more lotion to carry on how she cared for me. I bought one for me and one for my daughter. When I bought the lotion, I felt grateful for my mom’s kindness, care, and generosity. I felt her love in my gesture of self-care and caring for my daughter.
I don’t need grief to sustain my relationship with my parents. They never left me. They are closer than ever.
I don’t need grief to sustain a relationship with anyone else that was formed around shared grief. In other words, I don’t have to hold on to grief and suffering as an identity. Nobody who’s ever loved me would want me to hang out there for long. They would be so happy to see me put down that weight and experience more joy and gratitude than ever before.
You don’t miss a person the same way when you’ve reduced the distance between you and them to zero. When you have integrated their most cherished qualities into your very self. When you’re no longer resisting and trying to maintain a separate identity from them. When you know they’re only a thought away, and you can feel their presence in your heart. When you hear their voice in your heart whenever you need it.
My mom loved Christmas and went all-out. This is the first year I can listen to Christmas songs playing in stores or on the car radio without feeling sad. Instead, I feel gratitude for all those wonderful memories of my parents and for not pushing them away anymore. The big, black, iron teardrop in my heart has transformed into the light of unconditional love.
Instead of melancholy, I feel hope and excitement about making new holiday memories with my family, especially my almost three-year-old granddaughter. Those memories will look very different from my memories of Christmases past when my parents and grandparents were alive. Christmas is different now. And so am I.
© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.