Grief and the New Year: How to Move Forward 

(Without Leaving Our Loved Ones Behind)

Struggling with the idea of leaving your loved one behind? Here’s how I cope with this painful thought, with my take on The Dash Between. 

“I don’t want to move forward without them,” my client said.

The new year can be an especially hard time for people who have lost a loved one. Even as many of us make plans for the year ahead, for those who are grieving, that passage of time can be bittersweet and sometimes just bitter. Sentiments I hear include:

“I don’t want to go into the new year without my dad.”

“2020 was the last year we were a whole family.”

“This year will mark 20 years since she’s been gone.”

There can be a lot of pain associated with the idea of leaving the loved ones we lost behind. I want to share how I cope with this painful thought.

In her famous poem “The Dash” poet Linda Ellis notes that the dash between the date of birth and the date of death represents what really matters: the life that is lived. It’s a sentiment I very much agree with. Here’s my take on the concept of The Dash Between and how I think about “moving forward” in the new year.  You can watch the video below, or read on:

 After my mom died, I started to compulsively do a form of math.

1947 – 2013

The year she was born. The year she died. A dash between.

The difference was 66.

My mom had just turned 66 when she died suddenly and unexpectedly of a stroke.

66 years. It doesn’t seem like a lot considering how health conscious and active she was. It doesn’t seem like enough considering all the plans she still had.

My grandmother had died at the age of 67 from cervical cancer. And my mother had always lamented that was so young. And then for my mom to die even younger — that seemed so wrong.

The math seemed off. Calculate it again.

After my mother died, I went around compulsively calculating.

It seemed like that math problem was everywhere: Year of birth, year of death. What’s the difference in years?

I like going to museums and galleries as much as I can. And the year of birth and year of death tend to feature prominently: Next to the artist’s name in the labels for artwork. In their biographies.

And I calculated and I figured: How long did that person get?

How did that painter who lived in poverty in the 1800s live to 80-something when my healthy, active mother only got 66 years?

Some people had open-ended dashes — a living artist! And I puzzled: How is that sculptor born in 1930 still alive? Calculate it again.

But over time and many calculations, I realized:

What was important wasn’t the year of birth and the year of death. It was that dash between.

Not even the length of it, but the quality of it. The breadth of it, as I’ve heard some say. (Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying what’s important is “not the length of life, but the depth of life.”)

What was important was:

Not when the person was born and when they died

But what was done between:

What works created, what lives touched, what meaning left behind.

What is important
is not when my mom was born
not how and when she died

But how she lived.

That dash between
Is what really matters

The dash between
Is ALL that matters

My mom didn’t know she would only have 66 years. (As evidenced by the 5 wool coats she bought the winter she died. On sale! What a bargain!)

Most of us don’t know what our end dates will be.

How long our own dash will be.
How many years we get.

But what matters is our dash is still ongoing.

Our dates are still open-ended.
Our dates are not set.

I don’t know how many years I’ll get.

Yes, my mom maybe should have had more years.
I still choose to believe that.

But my dash is still open-ended — What an incredible gift.

Her dash has ended
But mine is still open-ended

And when I look closer, my dash — my ongoing life —is now more textured, more colorful, more faceted, brighter, more bitter and more beautiful.

Because of my mom.

Because I bring my mom forward with me

Forward into the new year
Into each new year.

Her own dash has ended
But she lives on into 2023 and beyond.

In my heart, my mind, my memories, my words, my work.

She continues
Like in a relay race, her memory is carried on
Like a baton
Or a torch

Carried into the future

And I’ll keep carrying her forward
As long as my dash goes on

So keep going on
Keep carrying them forward

Alongside us
With us

And may all our own dashes
Be better and brighter for it

Because that’s all that matters:
The dash between

Questions for the reader and griever:

  • Who are you going to be carrying forward with you?
  • How is your dash, your life moving forward, different and better for having had them in your life? Is it more delicious? More glittery? Softer? Bolder?
  • Let me know at my monthly grief gathering, on IG @Curating_Grief or by email at hello [at] charlenelam.com
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The holidays and new year period are a great time to reflect on how you want to remember your loved one, now and in the future.

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hello

I'm Charlene

I help grieving people feeling burdened by responsibilities, resentments and regrets after the death of a loved one to feel lighter –– so you can live your own fullest life. 

After the sudden death of my mother Marilyn in 2013, I put my life, work and grief on hold as I struggled to deal with the estate, paperwork and belongings.

Healing took time -- and it took help.

I'm a certified grief coach, and I developed my Curating Grief framework to help people process grief in a creative, accessible way.

 

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