Starting the New Year when you are grieving

Starting a new year can bring some difficult feelings for those who have been bereaved. If you'd like to make some changes, here are a few, gentle alternative resolutions you might like to consider.

By Kate Mitchell · December 21, 2020

It’s natural to start looking forward to 2024, hoping that it will bring better times. However, we know that starting a new year can bring some difficult feelings for those who have been bereaved. The start of the first new calendar year without someone you love can be particularly poignant. But all anniversaries, holidays and special occasions can be painful after someone has died, even many years later.

Whatever your situation, it can be tempting to use the change of a new year to try and make a new start. There is always a lot of talk about resolutions in the papers and on TV and many of us start the year feeling the pressure to get fit, lose weight, stop smoking or drinking too much or finally learn that language.

It’s important to be realistic – people rarely stick to big resolutions and trying to take on too much is setting yourself up for failure. But if you do want to make some changes in 2024, here are a few things you might like to consider.

Alternative New Year’s Resolutions

Many of us are not very good at looking after our own needs, and even in the depths of grief are worrying about letting other people down. But looking after yourself is the first step in getting anything done, whether it is for yourself or others.

By looking after yourself we don’t mean setting unrealistic health or diet goals you are unlikely to stick to. Think about what might actually help or refresh you the most – what activities give you strength as opposed to drain you? Some suggestions we’ve had from bereaved people include trying to get outside for some fresh air every day, making time to relax in the bath before bed, or starting a journal to record your feelings and memories.

Something else we often see at Cruse is people waiting a long time to get help when they are struggling. Often people feel that somehow they should be able to cope, or that because there are people worse off than themselves they should hold back.

Please know that at Cruse we offer help to anyone after someone dies, no matter who that person was, and when it happened. If you are suffering and need someone to talk to, making a resolution to get in touch with the Cruse helpline or another source of support could be the best start to the new year you can give yourself.

We know that after someone dies talking to others and sharing memories can be one of the most helpful things you can do. Many of us have also found that whilst it’s not perfect, there are alternative ways to connect – by phone, over the internet, or by sending cards and letters.

People often start out offering support to someone bereaved, but with the best of intentions other parts of life can get in the way. Sometimes we might all benefit from making a resolution to make the first move more often, whether we are looking for help or want to offer it to others.

If you do decide to make some resolutions, traditional or alternative, it can be tricky to stick to them once the first enthusiasm wears off. Especially in the early days of bereavement every task can seem daunting, because so much of your energy and emotion is being taken up with grieving and adapting to loss.

Breaking things down into steps can help. It can be useful to consider what’s the absolute smallest possible action you could take. If you have resolved to get in touch with someone or ask for help, how about on the first day just find the phone number. The next you might think about a few points you want to cover and note them down. And so on.

If your resolution is about starting a new habit, again think about the smallest thing you can do. Instead of resolving to run 5K every day, consider it a success if you walk to the end of the road and back. If you’re starting a journal, make the target writing one sentence a day. Not breaking a chain of actions, however tiny, can add up to a much bigger change than a target you can only keep up for a week or two.

Our final tip comes back to going easy on yourself. If you have been recently bereaved or are finding things tough it’s not the time to think about making big changes or resolutions. Sometimes just getting through each day is enough.

Over time most of us find that we are better able to cope, even though grief for someone special never goes away. Save the resolutions for when they feel right, whenever in the year that is.

Need to talk?

If you’re struggling this Christmas or New Year after someone close to you has died, we’re here to help.