As we come to the end of another year, I want to give you a gift — something quite unexpected that I learned this year in two quite different, but emotionally charged events: the marriage of my daughter and the death of my mother. As I have shared this story with others, they have encouraged me to share it more widely.
Firstly, my daughter’s wedding. This was, of course, a day of great celebration. I struggled keeping it together as I walked her down the aisle, and later during my speech, being overcome with love for my (only) daughter and the woman she has become. It was a wonderful day for all involved.
Following the wedding I took a week off, expecting to need a rest after all the activity. This was the case, but an unexpected benefit that proved to be a great delight was the opportunity to ‘relive’ the happy memories as they arose and were remembered. Every day new photos emerged on Facebook, people sent random text messages … The joy of the wedding extended beyond the wedding day.
One month later my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and given a very short time to live, after enjoying a long, healthy and happy life. We had numerous opportunities in her remaining eight peaceful weeks to laugh together, cry together, and say the things that really mattered. The final weeks were a time of grace and blessing.
I realised however, that her death would hit me in unexpected ways, and so (learning from the emotional experience after my daughter’s wedding) asked Jenny — my miracle working assistant — to be ready to clear my diary for a week the moment my mother passed away, which is what she did. I wanted to be free and available to be fully present to any emotion that emerged. And they did. Grief crept up on me at the strangest moments. A thought. A memory. A phone call that would not be answered. Sometimes a sadness. An emptiness. An overwhelming grief.
I had no model for how to grieve. I have not been a close observer of how others grieve.
I have observed clients and close friends lose their loved ones. Few of them knew how to grieve.
And one death does not make one an expert.
But here’s what I learnt, and is my gift for you at Christmas.
When you have those moments of high emotion, whether celebrating a birth death or wedding, whether experiencing trauma or triumph — give yourself the gift of time. Be intentional about it. Set aside a week or more to be present to yourself and allow yourself to live in through and with the emotion. I am glad I did. You will be glad you do.
Enjoy Christmas and the New Year. Enjoy the gift that others bring you by their presence, and that others bring you by their memories.
Thank you for the gift you are to others, and to me.
Let’s do great things in the year ahead