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Tis the Season for Joy ... and Grief

Grief is the price we pay for love. – Queen Elizabeth II

For those who have experienced the death of a loved one, whether within the last week or within the last year or even within their lifetime, the holiday season can feel particularly painful. Amidst all the light and joy and good tidings that December brings, the loss of a father, mother, child, significant other, family member or friend feels greatly magnified.

Indeed, grief does not take a vacation, and the holidays are no exception. For most of us who are grieving, the “joy” of the holidays has the opposite effect – it makes us even sadder that our loved ones are no longer with us.

I know so many people who have lost loved ones these past few years. I have watched their struggles as they try to comprehend the incomprehensible – to wrap their heads around loss that leaves huge holes in their souls. To try to handle the inconceivable emptiness that comes from knowing they will never hear their loved ones’ voice again, never feel their arms around them, never again share a meal … a phone call … a laugh, never again be able to look in their eyes, to touch their hair, to see their smile.

I have had too many losses over the years … and they just keep coming. The day after Thanksgiving, one of my dear friends from college died unexpectedly of a heart attack. We worked on the university paper in the late 1970s, and now he is gone.

As a self-professed expert on grief and loss, I have three observations as we move through the holiday season and into 2016.

1. Grieving is essential

In order to cope with the pain of a loved one’s death, you need to give yourself permission to grieve. It is such a huge loss, and simply burying the feelings that accompany a death will not make you feel any better in the long run. It took me several weeks to be able to function after my sister died. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than five minutes at a time. Instead of trying to “get back to normal,” I let myself grieve the loss, which eventually helped me start working and smiling and laughing again. And I strongly suggest a grief counselor – it is a good short-term investment for a healthier long-term outcome.

2. Grieving is a process, with no artificial deadlines

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear that someone who has lost a loved one “should be over it already.” Some people need only a few weeks to grieve … and others need a lifetime.  My mother died 45 years ago and I STILL find myself grieving at the oddest moments. The pain may be muted but the loss is still a reality. So don’t give yourself a grieving deadline. Just know it is a process that is different for everyone.

3. It is vital to learn how to navigate a new normal

Coping with loss is so difficult. I believe the key is learning how to navigate a new normal. The holidays will never be the same for me, but I have learned to navigate a new normal and continue to find joy in the season. I miss my mother, father, sister and brother so much, but I’ve learn to navigate a life that honors their memory and soothes my heart while finding the beauty in each day. Learning to navigate a new normal takes time and courage, but it is worthwhile: it not only honors your loved one’s memory but makes YOUR life worth living.

Grief does not take a holiday. But we certainly can respect the process. And realize that grief is the price we pay for love, and love is what makes life so wonderfully sweet.

Dr. Lori Baker-Schena is the founder and chief executive officer of Baker Schena Communications, a firm dedicated to “Unleashing Your Potential Through the Power of Words.” We offer motivational speaking, leadership consulting and medical writing services. Find us at www.loribakerschena.com

Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal

Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed. – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

The recent passing of Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, self-help pioneer and motivational speaker, prompted me to share one of my favorite quotes from him (above). It really hits home for all of us because it speaks a key truth: we MUST live in the present and BE present. Our past experiences are only memories and our tomorrows are never certain.

We only have today.

We humans are generally in deep denial of our own inevitable deaths. It will happen eventually, yet we push it out of our minds completely. The result? We think that every day is a “rehearsal” for our real lives. We are waiting for the curtain to lift, for the show to start, for the story to unfold.

Procrastination is a nasty byproduct of this denial. There is always tomorrow – always something better. Tomorrow we will find a better job. Tomorrow we will finish that project. Tomorrow we will get together with an old friend. Tomorrow we will find love. Tomorrow we will take that trip. Tomorrow we will donate our time to those less fortunate. Tomorrow we will take care of our environment. Tomorrow we will learn to play the guitar.

Yet while we are waiting for tomorrow, the world keeps turning and time keeps ticking. And then one day we wake up and realize that this is it. We aren’t in a dress rehearsal. This is our life.

My wake-up call came in my late 20s when I found myself dreading work and absolutely miserable. I held several jobs the previous seven years and while I learned a great deal, I just didn’t feel happy or fulfilled. And I realized that I wanted joy in all aspects of my life – from personal to professional. So I let go of the fear and started my own business.

I also made myself a personal commitment to treasure every day – no matter how challenging. I learned to live in gratitude, and be thankful for all I had – not envious or sad or jealous of what I did not possess. I became internally motivated – and blocked negativity and toxicity from my life. And I made a huge decision to try to make a difference in the lives of others.

Many of us let fear define our lives. We let baggage from old relationships and experiences hold us hostage – preventing us from pursuing dreams or embracing love. I suggest that we revisit Wayne Dyer’s words of wisdom, and start living our precious lives as fully as we can. Let’s stop procrastinating, stop making excuses and figure out how to avoid squandering our lives.

And when the end comes, whether it is tomorrow or 20 or 40 or 60 or 80 years from now, our loved ones will know that we lived our lives on a vibrant stage, in front of a packed house, to applause and acclaim because we did it right – we lived a passion-filled life.

RIP Wayne Dyer.

Dr. Lori Baker-Schena is the founder and chief executive officer of Baker Schena Communications, a firm dedicated to “Unleashing Your Potential Through the Power of Words.” We offer motivational speaking, leadership consulting and medical writing services. Find us at www.loribakerschena.com