This year, there seems to be more emphasis on ringing in the new year. Having made it to the final days of 2020, which brought us the pandemic, racial unrest, a tumultuous election, and a more divided nation than ever, many people, exhausted by the sheer magnitude of personal isolation and community tension, are rallying to celebrate its passing.
Yet many of us lost loved ones this year -- approximately 341,000 of our neighbors and family members have died from COVID 19 alone, and it is estimated that deaths to substance use and suicide have risen 25% since March. For every death, we can predict there are 10 bereaved loved ones left behind, and these numbers are higher in communities of color, where families tend to be larger and more interconnected.
So that's approximately 4,000,000 newly bereaved people -- this does not include those whose loved ones died before March 2020 or from other causes during this time.
How do we collectively address New Year's Day at this time? When so many of us are floating in a sea of grief?
"Happy New Year!" may be especially painful to hear if we are grieving.
Our grief does not end with the calendar year, and it may be daunting to face a whole new year stretching out in front of us, particularly if those around us are convinced the year will be "better".
While hoping the pain can be left behind, we may simultaneously be afraid of what the new year might bring and we may worry whether or not we can handle any more challenges. Our tendency is to stand at the threshold of a new year looking back rather than forward. To move on may feel like leaving our loved one behind -- an act of betrayal or abandonment of the one we love.
Our current experience of emptiness and loneliness may make us reluctant to face this new year, and its approach may mean different things for different grievers. Whether we welcome, dread or ignore a new year may depend on where we are in our grief process, and always sits within the context of the world around us.
We may be in shock or the wound may be extremely raw. We may feel that with so many deaths, our grief is minimized as just one more statistic. It is important to remember with gentleness that feeling a little numb or detached keeps us safe while we wake gradually to the reality that life and our world is not how we knew it or thought it would be. The calandar page turning matters little.
January 1st is just another day, with no power or meaning except the meaning we choose to give to it. Even this year; perhaps especially this year. We can give ourselved permission to feel however we are truly feeling, and it is OK to acknowledge our losses and grief with those around us. This new year's, may our only resolution be to respond with the utmost kindness to ourselves and others as we continue to navigate the waves in this sea of grief.