I considered what I had to say at the end of this devastating year. I’ve done a lot this year, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve struggled a lot. I worried about posting something that sounded too full of grief at the 2020 we had; I have so much to be grateful for. But acknowledging and allowing grief is important to me. That’s why I decided to write about the intersection of grief and gratitude today.
Grief is love that extends past absence and loss.
You don't have to grieve this year! You don't even have to have had a particularly bad year—and good for you if you didn't! However, if you ARE grieving the year you experienced, there are things you loved that you lost in this year. Maybe loved ones lost, and maybe a lot of other things too—your sense of well-being and safety, for one. It does not diminish the gravity of death to acknowledge how many breakups and emotional disconnections happened this year as well. The feeling of isolation settled in and made itself at home with a lot of people. Maybe you lost your role and sense of place in the world—as a member of a social group or family, as a worker or a student. Even a role you didn’t love in itself might have given you a stability you loved. Certain expectations of normality were entirely lost this year. There is no guilt in this grief.
Whatever impulse it is in people to tell others to let it go, get over it, be grateful, look at the silver lining—I have noticed that impulse emerging a lot this year. It's easier to tell people that things will get better or that they should look on the bright side than it is to feel uncomfortable and sad. I shouldn’t read the comments sections on the Internet, but I do. I read the comments section of a New York Times article recently, and someone posted about grieving this year and the physical-emotional-mental hardships it brought them. It was followed by a flood of outrage, commenters telling them how ungrateful they are for what they do have and how much others have lost. The comparison is the least useful emotional metric in the world. More than one thing can be true. To use myself as an example, I can be entirely grateful (as I am) for having lived and then some—I published a book this year and completed my first semester of a new MFA program. I can also acknowledge that I spent the majority of the time unhappy, tired, and sick, and that it was one of the singularly worst years of my life. Humans contain multitudes. I can grieve and be grateful.
The “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D, was written about mourning a loved one’s death, but it works just as well for any kind of loss. In it, he notes, “Comments like, ‘Think of what you have to be thankful for’ are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.”
Grief is not the erasure of gratitude. It is simply love—having loved something deeply, and then lost it. You do not have to have lost the biggest things or the most things to grieve.
I am okay with grieving 2020 and the things it took from me. My grief won’t erase my gratitude for achievements I’ve made and my appreciation for everyone who has supported me.
Be well and good luck in the wild wonder of the coming year.