December 12, 2016

The Silence: Life & the Holidays after Loss.


As a little girl I always loved this time of year.

The bright, colourful lights and beautiful holiday displays fascinated me, and I quickly memorized the lyrics of all the classic carols.

Spending time with loved ones brought me so much joy and still does.

But over the years, as I’ve counselled hundreds of people—many of whom have lost a loved one—I’m reminded of how agonizing this time of year can be. The holidays are often a painful reminder of who we are missing. Staring at the empty place-setting or sitting in the silence of their absence is beyond heart breaking and can make this an especially hard time.

But it won’t always feel like this.

Slowly, over time…the light will begin to shine again as we learn to honour our needs and ride the waves of our grief.

This poem is my offering of hope to all those who have lost someone and are feeling it even more deeply at this time of year.

She laid curled up on the couch, the silence almost deafening.
Everywhere she turned, images of her beloved stared back at her.
Sobbing, she buried her wet face in shaking hands
Until there were no tears left to shed.

Her head pounded, her chest ached.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this—they were supposed to be together forever.
But that had changed.
Memories of the last few months blurred together in her weary mind:
The diagnosis, the treatments, watching helplessly as his condition worsened.
She was powerless to stop the pain.

Her heart shattered into a million pieces.

How could it be almost a year later and yet her heart was still consumed with
So much sorrow?
Her chest felt tight as she stared at their wedding picture.
They were so happy then.

Rage burned bright inside of her.

She wanted to blame someone, anyone for her devastation,
But there was no one to blame.

She knew she couldn’t stay consumed in her mourning forever but
Guilt barged in whenever she dared to let joy come to visit.

It felt like a betrayal against her lover.

How could she let herself enjoy these moments when he could no longer
Laugh, or dance, or share a tender embrace?

A day without tears left her panicking.
Was she forgetting him, not missing him as much?

But as the snow began to melt, tiny buds…
Then bountiful flowers started to grow.
Everywhere she looked, she was reminded of the abundance of life.

She was still alive even if a part of her longed to be reunited with her love.

Ordinary things like sunsets and children’s laughter became
Extraordinary gifts as she realized…
It could all be gone in an instant.

But she would never be the same.

Her grief had dragged her into the belly of the snake.

She had been poisoned by the serpent’s sting but re-emerged,
Discovering a strength she never knew she possessed.

Slowly her heart began to mend as she realized she was not betraying her love, 
But honouring his memory by welcoming back joy.

And even, perhaps, one day loving again.


It is said that the intensity of our mourning is equal to the depth of our love. So if we find we are grieving long after we expected to be, or again as the holidays draw closer, one thing we can do is to celebrate how deeply we loved, and continue to love the person we have lost. And be gentle with ourselves. Give ourselves permission to do what feels right for us.

Many of my clients have found it healing to create new traditions and to reach out for support. Being mindfully aware of what we need from moment to moment can help make the holidays a little easier.

If someone came to mind as you were reading this, remember there is no timeline for grief. Many of us are numb and still in shock for the first year. We don’t need to “get over it.” We need compassion and understanding.

In today’s busy, distracted world it can be so easy to take the people in our life for granted.

As I support people through loss, I am constantly reminded of how precious life and my loved ones are. And I make a point of telling them regularly.

Do you?


Author: Nicole Schiener Manary

Image: Penelope Dullaghan Illustration

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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