A New Year Without My Loved One In It
Author: Betsy Beard
Once upon a time we were a happy, complete family that thrived on holiday traditions. Before Brad died, we approached the winter holidays with delight, reveling in the extra time together and enjoying the fresh sparkling snow and thoughts of the coming new year—a clean slate with no mistakes in it!
New Year’s Eve parties were planned. We joyously stayed up late and allowed the kids the same latitude so that we could all shout “Happy New Year” and run around the yard beating pots and pans and sharing the moment with the neighbors. In the days leading up to the end of the year, New Year’s resolutions were contemplated and discussed and written down (if not always kept).
But the first New Year that I “celebrated” without Brad was painful and raw. As the days grew shorter and the year drew to a close, winter wrapped itself around me and I felt frozen. I really didn’t want to exist in the New Year let alone resolve to do anything different or better. We unwisely allowed ourselves to be convinced to go to a party at a neighbor’s house, and as the Times Square New Year's Eve Ball dropped and the countdown began, all our un-bereaved friends were enjoying the moment, toasting, counting aloud, smiling, laughing, cheering.
I suddenly realized that within seconds I would be living and breathing in a year that Brad would never experience. It was crushing. I stumbled from the neighbor’s house, feeling infinitely alone. And for every New Year’s Eve since that first year of loss, I have steadfastly ignored the concept of celebrating the end of one year and the welcoming of a new one. It’s easy if I make sure I am in bed by 10:00 p.m.
However, in the eight years since Brad’s death I have experienced a degree of healing, and this year I am able to contemplate a future that I might affect, a future that I actually want to impact. As I think through what might be appropriate as a resolution for a grieving person, I realize that my life no longer revolves solely around what I want to do for myself. I also want to bring Brad with me on this journey and integrate his thoughts and experiences into the new year as well. One way to do that is to care about the things he cared about and spend time doing the things he liked to do.
So as the ball drops in Times Square this year, I might still be awake, pondering my own countdown. Maybe you will find some ideas that will work for you, in case you stay up past midnight.
10. Honor and remember the sacrifices of those who put themselves in harm’s way for others. I am continually grateful to our service members, both living and dead. Brad cared deeply about those he served with and I should do no less.
9. Share thoughts and feelings with family and friends so that they know when I am hurting. No one can read my mind, even after all these years, so it is my responsibility to openly express how I am feeling, especially when I am feeling vulnerable and sad.
8. Be gentle with myself and others. All of us who are grieving, and even those who are not, are better served with gentleness.
7. Allow expressions of grief. One of my best friends, another mom who lost a son in Iraq, gets together with us each year on the same-day anniversary of our sons’ deaths. One of the phrases she used years ago when we were feeling guilty about an action or emotion was, “We are so allowed!”
6. Allow joy. Again, whatever condition we find ourselves in on any given day, “we are so allowed.”
5. Don’t set false expectations. Our family and many others like ours have been able to avoid feeling extra pain when things don’t go the way we expected by reminding ourselves, “It is what it is.”
4. Resolve not to feel guilty. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we could have somehow done something to prevent our loved one’s death. In most cases, we could not have foreseen, altered, or avoided what happened to them.
3. Take care of my health. Being in good physical condition was important to Brad. I think of him when I exercise, wondering if he would be proud of me.
2. Resolve that I won’t find meaning as much as learn to make meaning of my new life. This one is harder… For a long time I thought that something would happen to me to suddenly bring fulfillment and meaning to a horrible situation. Now I realize that I have to take the circumstances and weave my own meaning around them.
1. Take a page from Brad’s book: enjoy life, find the humor in every situation, tackle challenges, and live in the moment. I don’t honestly know if I can do this, so I reserved it for the last of the resolution countdown. Perhaps by remembering what an awesome person he was, I will be able to tap in to Brad’s fun-loving zest for living.
Following resolutions has never been easy, but neither is learning to live without our special loved ones. The start of a new calendar year is a chance to realize once again that we are, in fact, still living. It certainly isn’t the life we would have chosen. But even though the earthly lives of our loved ones have ended, we are still in the midst of our lives. We still have something to offer others and we still have the opportunity to share our loved ones’ lives with others. I hope that we all continue to find ways in this coming year to follow in the footsteps of our loved ones who have gone before us.
By Betsy Beard, Surviving mom of SPC Bradley S. Beard: Betsy Beard served as the editor of TAPS Magazine for seven years in addition to volunteering as a peer mentor, care group facilitator, and national workshop presenter. She currently serves as the vice president of Military Writers Society of America and edits their annual anthology. In addition to contributing many articles for TAPS Magazine, Betsy has been published in Living with Loss and various newspapers. She wrote the award-winning children's book, Klinger: A Story of Honor and Hope, which earned three gold medals and a silver medal. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Randy.