In my NYC therapy practice, so many sessions focus on goals, growth, and what folks want for themselves for the future. This is especially true entering the month January, as the New Year’s holiday is a time of renewal and resolutions. The new year can be an opportunity to reflect on the last year and to pause and ask, “How do I want the year ahead to be different?”
However, for people who have experienced recent loss like a death, a breakup or the loss of a job, it is challenging to enter a new year with a sense of lightness and hope. This year in particular, many are grieving and mourning because of our current political climate. It’s hard to feel like taking a fresh start when the baggage of 2016 is so unresolved as we enter 2017.
Many in this country experienced 2016 as a series of losses and realities that cumulatively felt like that of a major death. This begs the question: how do people continue to grieve and be honest about the state of our nation as they move into the new year?
It also highlights the falseness that often surrounds this holiday, as it is always true that passing into a new year does not magically cleanse us of the recent past. The light optimism that comes with New Year’s resolutions often do not reflect the fact that change and newness are things that come with growing pains–often involving loss. Change is so challenging that the discomfort of the old way of doing things needs to outweigh the discomfort of doing things differently in order for there to be any forward movement.
The New Year’s sentiment is a lovely one and I celebrate any opportunity for folks to be mindful about the ways in which they want their lives to be better. Yet, what the transition between 2016 and 2017 reveals is that in order for things to get better, there is pain left to be resolved and there are more challenges ahead.
So what should our grieving look like as we enter 2017? As always, this differs from person to person, but it feels important–just like with any loss–for people to stay connected and honest about their feelings and not bury them, which could leave them feeling stagnated. After the acute shock of the election, many patients in my practice began to feel less upset and more normal.
Many also added, however, that it was important to them to stay upset or at the very least, stay connected to the goings-on of our nation’s current events. This reflects a sentiment of grieving–even though they were feeling less acutely impacted, they acknowledged that there are still many complicated feelings to work through. They stated that they did not want the demands of day-to-day life to make them deprioritize the larger issues, such as racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, that were so important to them.
This is not such a different tactic from what my colleagues and I wrote at the time of the election. It is important to acknowledge that this is messy, this is hard, and there is a great deal of uncertainty. But, as long as we continue to talk about it, refuse to bury it, and keep the conversation going, this will help the bereaved feel less alone, less powerless, and feel strength to face whatever comes next. This will allow our nation to heal both individually and collectively in order to bring us strength and clarity for the future.