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Grief and Healing: Setting Your Intentions for the New Year

When we first lose someone we love, or when we’re grieving a previous loss for the first time, it’s all we can do to simply survive each day.  There are times in our grief journey, however, when we become ready to make changes in how we grieve and heal. Change begins with choice, and choice is fueled by intention. Healing will come through the courage to act and a willingness to allow ourselves a full and honest grief experience.

After the death of a loved one, we may fervently hope that we will feel better and perhaps “more normal” as a new year begins. Will our grief be a continuation of last year, or will this year be a little better? If we want things to be different, it will help to set intentions mindfully.

The first step is to embrace fully that we are where we need to be in our grief journey.

Grief, so soon, starts to feel like self-pity. We want the pain to be over so we can move forward. There is often pressure from both society and those who love us to move forward. And yet so much of our heart just wants the life we had – the loved one we had – back.

What if we stopped thinking that grief is a battle that must be won and that we’re doing it the wrong way? What if we stopped arguing with reality – about where we think we should be – and extended compassion and kindness to ourselves? Would we have more energy and resources to move forward?

Setting intentions is not about setting expectations – where we think we ought to be.  It’s about where we hope to be. It allows us to live in the present while actively choosing the future. It helps us practice taking responsibility for opening our mind and heart. Opening ourselves up to grief is so painful and scary, but that is what leads to healing.

Choosing your intentions

What intentions will guide your choices in the new year? How do you choose intentions that are right for you? Ask yourself:

~ What comes next? We may not know three steps ahead, but what is the first step, the next right step?

~ What resonates with me?

~ What has meaning to me? Why?

~ What do I want to build anew, since I can’t rebuild what was?

As we capture the essence of each intention, it’s helpful to turn it into an intention statement that defines how it will work in our lives. For example:

~ I am willing to practice making healthy choices each and every day. (Keep it open-ended. One day this choice may be going to the gym; another day it may be sipping tea by the fire.)

~ I am willing to forgive my loved one for dying.

~ I am willing to practice not being angry.

~ I am willing to allow myself a break from the grief.

~ I am willing to explore difficult feelings.

~ I am willing to experience joy.

~ I am willing to practice being kind to myself, above all else.

When we actually state an intention, we are more likely to follow through with it. It’s helpful to write our intention statement(s) down and put it somewhere that is convenient and easy to see, like creating a screensaver on the phone or taping it to the bathroom mirror.

It can also be helpful to choose a guiding word for the year. One man who lost his teenage daughter two years ago chose the word “resolve” to find what life there is that may be worth living. Other word ideas might be “grounded” or “buoyant.” What word resonates with you?

Action Follows Choice

Manifesting intentions requires action over time. As time passes, we may wonder just how long it will take to see results.  When self-doubt begins to creep in, keep in mind that change is slow, undramatic, incremental, and cumulative.

It may not feel like we’re changing much, but over time we can see how far we’ve come.  We are so hard on ourselves. If you have trouble finding how far you’ve come because you’re too deep in the trenches, find a friend, therapist, or support group that can help you see it. We are not measuring our progress for only the sake of accomplishment but also to apply what we’ve learned to the continuing manifestations of our intentions. It builds on itself.

Each night for one week, set aside 10 minutes to write down three things that went well that day. These can be very small – perhaps you brushed your teeth, or made a phone call you’ve been putting off. Why did they go well? Refer back to your intentions.

There can be freedom and empowerment in measuring our progress. Although we cannot control that our loved one has died, it is in our power to take action in our grief and in our lives. Who do we want to be, how do we want to be in this? Perhaps we feel resentful and angry, but we don’t have to be that person.

Grief is hard work. Listening and thinking about what happened to you takes courage and energy. Be kind to yourself.


“Awake my dear. Be kind to your sleeping heart. Take it out into the vast fields of light and let it breathe.”

– Hafiz

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