In the process of searching for the owner of a lost dog in the neighborhood, a 4 pound pomeranian who had run off and joined a walk with some large rather tough looking dogs, I received several calls from distraught owners of lost animals hoping that somehow we had found their pet. They had seen the sign or the Craig’s List ad and hoped we had found their animal companion. I was reminded when talking with each of them of the many people who are suffering, probably silently, in some stage of grief and loss during this festive season. I was reminded of how difficult it can be to celebrate the holidays when sad and when missing something that was beloved in life.
Holidays don’t take away these grief experiences In fact they can heighten the experience, emphasizing what is missing or absent. Distraction can temporarily alleviate the pain of loss but invariably something brings the loss back to mind. The holiday expectations of happiness and joy, of companionship and family, often act as a hard backdrop to the realities of changed circumstances involving loss that have evolved in many people’s lives.
Intense grieving can last from three months to a year after a loss and frequently continues for several years. Emotions need attention, understanding and compassion during this period in order to be processed and integrated. Giving oneself kind attention calms the often painful feelings of sadness or anger or emptiness. Making some formal expression of remembrance, giving a donation, planting a tree, planning a memorial, can help to create a positive context for the loss. Allowing grieving space in amidst the festivities can help to soothe uncomfortable emotions.
Although there are different theories about grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Finding a balance between grieving and continuing on with a productive life after the initial shock of a loss will aid in incorporating loss into life. Loss is part of our life and part of what make us cherish what we hold near and dear to our hearts.
One of my favorite poems emphasizes the importance of developing this capacity in our lives, this capacity to lose. Elizabeth Bishop describes this as the “art of losing.” What better way to describe this valuable life lesson and challenge, this truth about living.