Happy New Year of 2024!
The new year always brings a sense of anticipation, and we hope that the things we’ve grieved in the past year—our disappointments, stresses, and worries about our world—will be better this year. Winter brings crisp scents and the thoughtfulness of holiday gifts can lead to increased desire for the good in life.
Yet, particularly when we’re grieving, the new year also brings a sense of sadness, of longing and yearning for who and what has left our lives both recently and way in the past.
New Year’s resolutions are one way people try to address a simultaneous desire for the good of the future and for the past. But resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. Each January, for example, I watch new people come to the pool where I regularly swim. I know they’re intending to get fitter and to feel better about themselves. The lanes become crowded and we jostle for space (swimmers are incredibly territorial athletes). I know this crowding won’t last long and that in a few weeks at best, many of those people will have given up swimming for exercise. While I’m glad to have a lane to myself again (did I mention territoriality?), I feel sad that people who wanted to swim didn’t make it a new habit.
I think New Year’s resolutions are like that. It’s difficult enough to keep a resolution intended to change life habits, but grief makes sticking to a resolution even harder. And a resolution not kept often feels like failure, which is a terrible feeling with or without grief.
As a remedy to trying to make such difficult changes, in this blog in 2023, I introduced the idea of a word of the year. I got that notion nine years ago from a wellness professional, and I’ve engaged it for myself since then. This New Year’s tradition doesn’t require wrapping myself up in impossible-to-keep resolutions. The idea is to find just one word that most sums up what you would like to bring to your life this year. You might find that this word is already in your mind, right now as you read this blog. Or you might want to think about it for a while to see what word emerges as embodying the most important concept. Either way, you’ll know. Even if your word is the same as someone else’s you’ll learn different things from it. In sum, your chosen word is both a simple and profound way to move consciously into a year of possibility.
I use my word of the year as a daily reminder to continually grow. After all, life—like grief—is about transition and continual growth. For example, when I started this practice in 2015, my word was surrender, which taught me about letting go of the notion that I could pick and choose my world. I found the concept of surrender to be challenging because giving up a false sense of control forced me to remember that as a human, I can change only a few of my life’s circumstances. That includes my losses from deaths and other transitions.
In 2016, the year my mother died, my word was listen. This word reminded me to stop, be quiet, and really hear what people (and the world) were saying. I learned not to fill in the blanks of what I thought people were saying—or what I wanted them to say—and hear them at deeper levels. But I also learned about listening to my heart, to death, and to the challenges of living. My sense of compassion grew.
I did more than just remember these words. During the year, I thought about their meanings, read about them, used them in conversations, and put them into action. (I'll talk about these processes more in the next blog.)
Surrendering is still hard, but I have the work of nine whole years behind this attempt at changing my views and habits. As with surrender, learning to truly listen has become the work of years; I’m getting a little better at it. And although surrender and listen are simple words, I found their effects to be positive and helpful. Other recent words were breathe, create, and manifest.
In 2019, I managed to manifest for myself three completed book manuscripts and a boat! To my great grief, I’ve since needed to sell that boat, but I had it for a while, fulfilling one of my life goals. My word for 2020 was grace, which I desperately needed with three spinal surgeries in 15 days, 28 days in the hospital, and months of healing afterward. In 2021, my word was mercy, which I learned I could only manifest for others after I have given it to myself. In 2022, my word of the year was hope, which is a word we often use but one we have trouble practicing. Our world is a rapidly changing and sometimes frightening place. I spent much of that year trying to define hope for myself and to help others to find hope.
This past year, my 2023 word was Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” How important that word has been as a reminder of my ongoing need for hope. You may practice a different faith from me, but perhaps you also see a need for the Creator to be with us.
My word of the year helps me to make meaningful changes. Each year’s word shows me the richness of my life’s experiences and the interconnectedness of all things. Then, I continue to incorporate that word in my life, accumulating each word’s wisdom and power into the upcoming years.
My word for 2024 is peace. That’s a word that evokes deep need whenever we’re grieving but also when we see that peace doesn’t exist. Peace can be used tritely, too. So, to really engage with peace, I will need to use it as a noun, something I personally want and that I want for others. I will also need to use it as an adjective—peaceable, peaceful, peace-loving—to understand and manifest peace most completely.
Will you join me in choosing a word of the year, a word to guide your journey? Will you consider how you might embrace the concepts found within one word, working it daily in your life and finding yourself through this work?
Whether you’re grieving your own losses or support other bereaved people, I encourage you to consider a word-of-the-year practice. What word expresses something you want for your life in 2024?
May you have a creative, grace-filled, and merciful New Year!