2023. For some of you, this is the start of the first new year you’re living with the loss of your loved one. For others, this may be your twentieth new year. I remember the start of 2017 – that was my first new year without my older brother. I was so afraid to say goodbye to 2016 because it felt like I would be saying goodbye to my brother forever and as time passed, I worried he would be forgotten. There would never be another year that we were all here together and I didn’t know what that would look or feel like, I didn’t know what to do with the uncertainty, and I didn’t want to find out. Fortunately (though at the time, I would have said unfortunately), I had no control over one year ending and the next one beginning, and so ready or not, it happened.
“Happy New Year” is something we say without giving it a second thought. It’s an expression but expressions are made up of individual words; when I hear the word happy, I think of true joy and excitement and when I hear the word new, I think of something shiny, better, and more desirable. “Happy New Year” can be a really hard sentiment to hear for someone who’s grieving. I’m not suggesting we cancel “Happy New Year”, and even if I was, let’s face it, I don’t have that kind of pull. What I’m asking is for us to maybe take a beat before wishing someone a Happy New Year over the next few days and weeks.
Earlier this week, I was writing a holiday card to a friend when I realized I was wishing her a happy holiday season and a happy new year. She and her family experienced a significant loss this year and I immediately regretted what I was writing- so I started over. Instead, I acknowledged how this time of year was likely very different than previous years and instead of telling her to have a happy anything, I told her that my hope for her and her family was that they were able to experience moments of peace and love. Was it short and sweet like ‘happy holidays and happy new year’? No, definitely not. Was it a helpful thing to say? I have no idea. All I know is that taking the extra three minutes to acknowledge her family’s loss, and intentionally not using the words happy and new, in that instance, felt right to me.
When people wished me a Happy New Year in 2017, I really tried to not overthink it but I couldn’t help it. All I could think was that I didn’t want a new year and I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t blame anyone for saying it because it wasn’t about them. It was about me. I’m a firm believer that we all have more in common than we realize so if I felt that way, I think others have, too.
There’s so much we can’t do. We can’t stop people from living with loss, we can’t prevent one year from ending or a different year from starting, and we can’t change the popular opinion that the holiday season is happy and cheery and bright and perfect. But what we can do is remind someone that not everything has to be happy and merry in order for it to be meaningful and you can remind someone that you haven’t forgotten. It might just be the best gift you could give someone.