New Hope for a ‘New’ Year

Author: Jennifer Keeling

On January 1, 2020, many of us may have gathered with our family and friends to ring in the New Year. The New Year brings the hope of new possibilities, new dreams and new beginnings. We may have had the hope that 2020 would be better than 2019.  By February, the pandemic hit and suddenly all of those hopes and dreams seemed out of reach. Life as we knew it had suddenly been altered. As military survivors this is not the first time our lives have suddenly been altered. The tools that we learned to use to help us cope with our “new normal” after the loss of our loved ones may not be possible to use due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Often when we lose someone suddenly our lives can feel out of control. The things that we relied on and sometimes took for granted were ripped out from underneath our feet. In order to find our footing we might look for the things in our lives that we could control. Many of us began to rely on planning out our days and our weeks and setting up daily routines in order to create some sort of stability.

2020 Debby Hudson on UnsplashPhoto: Debby Hudson via Unsplash

When my husband died by suicide in 2009, I focused on the simple tasks to help me get through each day. I could control what time I woke up in the morning by setting an alarm for the same time every day. I created a checklist for myself and made the items on my list things that I knew would be doable and I could easily accomplish and check off at the end of the day. Checking off these tasks gave me a boost of confidence that I was successful and that I was making it. I would plan and schedule activities to keep me and my two boys busy. The busier we were the less time we had to think about our grief (or so I thought). By setting a routine and a schedule, I had control and felt a sense of safety because I knew what to expect each day and I could feel prepared.

With the stay-at-home order, we are now working from home and kids are out of school. The scheduled activities that normally occupy our time have been cancelled. Our daily routines have been completely uprooted and it may seem like our lives are once again out of our control. We cannot plan or schedule anything because we do not know when we will be allowed to go back to our regular lives. We are now left with more down time which gives us more time for our minds to wander. It can leave us experiencing loneliness, sadness and even anger that our loved ones are not here to help support us through this pandemic. We can feel out of sorts and for some it has brought back anxieties that we had thought we had worked through.

We can still use what we learned from our grief journey and incorporate the same tools that we found helpful in the beginning of our loss to help us now adjust to this “new new normal.” Just like in my grief, finding my rhythm during this pandemic has taken some work and I have had to create new routines. I have also had to give myself permission to go back to the basics and start with simple day-to-day checklists. Doing the same thing day in and day out may get redundant, but the consistency helps make me feel like I have some say in what is happening in the world around me. I cannot actually control what is happening in the world, but I can control how I react to it and that gives me a sense of security.

The year 2020 can still be a year of new possibilities, new dreams and new beginnings, they just may look differently then they did in January. Our focus might have shifted and the things we thought we wanted to accomplish may have changed. Using this time of quiet to reflect on ourselves and our goals may give us a new perspective on what we value and what is important to us. We can use this time to learn new ways to help us cope and it can make us stronger and healthier both physically and mentally. The choice on how we react is really up to us, which in return gives us control over our situation. By stretching ourselves outside of our usual day-to-day lives and by coming up with new ways to challenge ourselves, we can make this year the year that we successfully survived a world pandemic and did it with confidence, positivity and hope — and experienced new post-traumatic growth.


Jennifer KeelingJennifer Keeling is the surviving spouse of Army 1st Sgt. Ronald Keeling and serves on TAPS Suicide Postvention Programs.