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After a loved one dies, each day can be a struggle. But each day, you can also find comfort and understanding in this daily companion. With one brief entry for every day of the calendar year, this little book by beloved grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt offers small, one-day-at-a-time doses of guidance and healing. Each entry includes an inspiring or soothing quote followed by a short discussion of the day’s theme. This compassionate gem of a book will accompany you.
About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a speaker, grief counselor, and Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. He is the author of Understanding Your Grief, The Depression of Grief, and The Paradoxes of Mourning. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
Grief One Day at a Time
365 Meditations to Help You Heal After Loss
By Alan D. Wolfelt
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2016 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
"At the rising of the sun and at its going down, We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, We remember them.
At the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, We remember them.
At the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, We remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, We remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live for they are now a part of us as We remember them."
— Excerpt, by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer
At this transition from the old year to the new, we think about those we love who have died. A year they will not enjoy. A year they will not be here for us. A year — at once so swift and so excruciatingly slow.
But in this new year, we will remember them, and we will love them. And those are the two most powerful forces in the universe.
* * *
This year, I will remember, and I will love.
"And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."
— Rainer Maria Rilke
We who grieve may not exactly feel like celebrating the new year, but we can sometimes feel a bit of relief that the last calendar year — which was rough — is over.
The new year holds the promise of a clean slate. It offers opportunities for new beginnings. It whispers of hope.
Let us welcome hope whenever and wherever and whyever we feel it stir. And as we slog forward into this new year, let us try to remember that it will be full of things that have never been. It will lack special people, yes, but it will also bring surprises — gifts, joys, love, and, if we continue to do our hard work of active mourning, a measure of healing.
* * *
I can both mourn and expect good things to happen in this new year.
"On this bald hill the new year hones its edge.
Faceless and pale as china The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous; Nobody can tell what I lack."
— Sylvia Plath
Part of what makes grief so hard is that it's invisible. Inside we are torn apart, but outside we look basically the same. Nobody can tell what we lack — sometimes not even the people who are closest to us.
In times gone by, mourners wore black clothing or special jewelry to alert others to their grief. We too can wear a symbol of our loss, such as an armband, a photo button, or, as we do here at the Center for Loss, an "Under Reconstruction" pin. Or we can simply make it a point to be forthcoming with the people in our lives, letting them know what happened and sharing our current thoughts and feelings. We can appropriately communicate our lack.
* * *
When others ask me how I am doing, I will not say, "fine" unless I am truly fine. Instead, I will learn to share my inner reality so that I am living and communicating my truth.
"Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting somebody in it."
— Author Unknown
Oh, the pain of missing those who have died. The memories are there, the love is still there, but the physical presence is ... gone. Forever. Even though it has been 16 years since my father died, I still have moments when I remember that I will never again see him on this earth, and I gasp aloud at the hurt of the realization.
Our five senses ascertain reality. We see, hear, touch, smell, and taste our world. When we are missing someone, we may still be able to touch an article of their clothing, breathe in the scent of their pillow, and see and hear them on cherished videos. I call these "linking objects" because they link us to the physical presence we are missing so much. Linking objects soothe, honor, and help us transition to a relationship of memory in lieu of presence.
* * *
I wish you were here. Right here, where I could see, touch, and hear you. I will always miss you, but I will also always love you. The love is still here.
"In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone."
— Christina Rossetti
Where I live in Colorado, winter can be brutal. January is dark and can be bitter cold. The wind at my home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains slices like a knife. Snow and ice cover the iron ground, making driving and even walking outside treacherous.
Midwinter is a time to withdraw and to grieve. It is a time to huddle indoors, sit by the fire, and contemplate the meaning of life and death. It is also a time for hot chocolate and meaningful conversations with people we care about. We can heed grief's call for stillness and also share this time of reflection with others. Midwinter can be a time to take a break, too! More and more as I get older, I like to carve out time in January for a vacation somewhere warm. But even when I can't travel, I can still visit a friend's house, go to my favorite restaurant, or spend time just being.
We grieve and withdraw. We take breaks for warmth and relief. This is the January of our grief.
* * *
On the bleakest days, I will remember that withdrawing is necessary, that talking to others helps, and that I need breaks now and then.
"Journal writing is a voyage to the interior."
— Christina Baldwin
When we write about our grief in a journal, we're expressing our thoughts and feelings outside of ourselves. That means journaling is a form of mourning, and it can help us heal.
There are no rules for grief journaling, but you might consider jotting down your thoughts and feelings first thing when you wake up or each night before you go to sleep. You can use a paper journal or a computer. Entries can be as long or as short as you want. Don't worry about what you're writing or how well you're writing it. Just write whatever's on your mind and heart.
Over time, journaling also helps us see our progress. When we go back and reread things we wrote months ago, we notice the ways in which our grief has changed and softened. Sometimes seeing how far we've already come helps us keep going.
* * *
If I'm not already a journaler, I'll give it a try today. I just might like it.
"You don't get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd."
— Neil Gaiman
In grief we often look for explanations. Why did the people we love have to die? Why now? Why in this way? Why am I still here and they are not?
It's normal and necessary to ask such questions. Grief is a spiritual journey, and asking — and searching for answers to — the big meaning-of-life questions is definitely on the itinerary.
We don't always find answers. Lots of times we end up shrugging and surrendering to the mystery. We find ways to trust in the chaos. Life is odd. But like so many things that are odd, it's also beautiful because of its idiosyncratic nature. Tidy explanations are overrated.
* * *
I can look for explanations, but I might end up finding a sort of peace in not finding them.
"Everything is falling together perfectly, even though it looks as if some things are falling apart. Trust in the process you are now experiencing."
— Neale Donald Walsch
Grief is a long, winding road. It is a process, not a moment in time. And when we are in the middle of the journey, it can seem like we are not making any progress. In fact, it can feel like things are falling more and more apart.
In grief, things often do get worse before they get better. When it feels like everything is falling apart, we must remind ourselves that actually, everything is as it should be. As long as we are doing the work of encountering and expressing our grief, we can trust that everything is falling together perfectly. It may not seem like it at any given moment, but all is well. We can trust in the process we are experiencing.
* * *
Today I will allow my grief to become mourning, and no matter what happens, I will trust that the journey is leading me toward healing.
"I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood."
— Bill Watterson
We must admit that most of us enjoy a bad mood now and then. It's satisfying to grump and complain, to close ourselves up, even to slam the occasional door.
I think we get some satisfaction out of bad moods because we recognize that they're necessary. In fact, they're not really "bad" moods at all — they're just a different flavor of mood. Feelings are never good or bad; they just are.
We could never revel in our loss; we would undo it if we could! But since we can't, we can indulge our "bad moods" whenever we feel like it. We can withdraw and grouse and have a good cry. We can feel sorry for ourselves and throw a self-pity party. Because when we do these things, we're simply acknowledging our reality and embracing our pain — both tasks we have to undertake on the road to healing.
* * *
When I'm in a "bad mood," I'll wallow in it if I feel like it.
"Pain is the doorway to wisdom and to truth."
— Keith Miller
The word "January" comes from the Roman god of doorways, Janus (after the Etruscan word janua, which means door). He had charge of the gates of Heaven as well as all doorways and gates, physical and metaphorical. He is often depicted as having two faces — one looking forward and one looking backward.
Our grief is like that. We look back at the past we shared with the people who died, and we look forward at a future without them. Like Janus, we are standing in the doorway, but this doorway of our grief is not a comfortable place to be. We're betwixt and between, in what is called "liminal space." Limina is the Latin word for threshold and is related to the concept of limbo.
We don't like being in this limbo doorway. We would rather go backward to the way things were or fast forward to some future time in which we're feeling settled again. But here's the thing: it is only in the doorway of liminal space that we can reconstruct our shattered worldviews and re-emerge as transformed, whole people who are ready to live fully again.
* * *
I don't like this doorway of grief, but I'm learning to respect it.
"It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."
— Virginia Woolf
When the lethargy of grief overtakes us, we can feel as if we are moving through mud. Everything takes too much effort. We are tired physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
This is normal and necessary, but sometimes we rebuke ourselves or feel guilty for being so lazy. Instead, we should flip the rebuke over and see that sometimes it is our very idleness that allows progress in our healing. The lethargy of grief nurtures our need to slow down, turn inward, and bask in being in neutral. Times of not doing and simply be-ing can allow us to discover new insights and experience breakthroughs.
In our stillness, the truth may rise to the top.
* * *
Today I will revel in any idleness I may find myself experiencing. I may even set aside time for idleness.
"Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity."
— Coco Chanel
Grief has a way of cutting to the chase. Pretenses fall away. We find that we want nothing to do with phoniness. We don't have the energy for fakery, and besides, it suddenly seems so pointless, even distasteful.
Our newfound (or intensified) instinct for authenticity is borne of our grief. We've lost someone who gave our life meaning. That loss has made us keenly aware of what is meaningful to us and what is not. It's like turning on a black light in an otherwise dark room; certain things become obvious that we couldn't see clearly before.
The good news is that we can use this time of grieving to jettison habits, belongings, and even people we now realize do not resonate with our inner truth. If something seems ungenuine, or we simply don't care about it anymore, out it goes. This winnowing process is valuable and has the power to make the rest of our lives richer and more meaningful.
* * *
I'm going to pay attention to what really matters to me. Everything else I will let fall by the wayside.
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
— Oscar Wilde
We are all mourners, but no two of us are traveling the exact same grief journey. Our grief is unique, shaped by our one-of-a-kind histories, personalities, relationships with the people who died, spiritual or religious backgrounds, circumstances of the death, support systems, and other factors.
We'll grieve as only we would grieve, and we need to mourn in ways that work for us. When others tell us we must do this or that, we have the right to ignore them.
I'll be myself in grief, and you be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.
* * *
I'll be myself in grief. My gut instincts will tell me what's right for me and what's not.
"What's past is prologue."
— William Shakespeare
Leave it to Shakespeare to capture such a profound life lesson in just four words. Often we grievers are encouraged to "just move on." We are told to "let go," "get past it," and "put the past in the past." Our culture has been contaminated by an insidious misconception that emotional-spiritual pain is bad and that we should simply "forget" any past experiences that are now causing us pain.
Hogwash. Our pasts are the prologues to our futures. First of all, we can't forget: our brains aren't wired that way. And second, we shouldn't want to forget! Our memories house our very existence. They inform and give context to who we are today. Memories of past relationships, especially, are our most meaningful treasures.
Yes, today is the first day of the rest of your life, and you do have the power to create the future you desire. But your past will always be a significant part of who you are tomorrow.
* * *
I will remember you. You are an important part of who I am today and will remain an important part of me in every tomorrow.
"During a panic attack, I remember that today is just today, and that is all that it is. I take a deep breath in, and I realize that in this moment I am fine and everything is OK."
— Max Greenfield
It's thought that about ten percent of us experience panic attacks at least occasionally. Panic attacks are sudden, overwhelming feelings of intense fear, complete with symptoms like shortness of breath, sweatiness, heart palpitations, shaking, and anxiety about losing control or even dying. They commonly come on without warning and in situations that, on the surface at least, seem safe or normal.
Essentially, panic attacks are misfirings of our built-in fight-or-flight systems. They're now known to be triggered by cues, internal and external, that our brains interpret as "danger!" The natural fears and worries we experience in grief can act as such cues. In fact, in grief, panic attacks are often invitations to go backward and explore any aspects of our loss that make us feel fearful or anxious.
If you're suffering from panic attacks, I urge you to see a licensed therapist who can help you explore them and get them under control. Until you find ways to tame your panic attacks or intense fears, you will not have the focus or sense of safety you need to grieve, mourn, and heal.
* * *
If I'm feeling panicky or suffering panic attacks, that simply means I need help calming my body's fight-or-flight system.
"'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat. 'We're all mad here.'"
— Lewis Carroll
Most of us feel crazy at some point in our grief journeys. After all, it's a mad place to be.
We don't want to be here, but here we are.
The really crazy thing is, crazy is normal in grief. Loss upends us, and we realize that our lives will never fully return to the mostly stable, sensical version of reality we thought we inhabited. Now we know: It's human existence that's crazy — not our grief.
* * *
Today I'll remember that we're all mad here. Beauty, love, and joy live in the madness too.
Excerpted from Grief One Day at a Time by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2016 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
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