We enter a new year, often filled with hope and resolutions.
At this time, we also remain in a pandemic that has lasted longer than most, if not all, of us could ever have imagined. Lives have been upended, and many of us have lost loved ones.
When we lose someone we love, we suffer. In my newsletters and other writings, I have shared my own losses as well as those of dear friends. During these difficult times we search for meaning in our loss; we seek comfort and solace where none seems apparent.
One way to find solace is in developing a legacy that honors the person who died. By doing this we can feel closer to them.
Telling stories of a loved one that showcase who they were, and sharing those stories aloud, can be a wonderful way to honor someone and keep their memory alive. When the time feels right, gather family and friends to page through photo albums or digital images. Invite people to share a memory that is evoked by a picture (or a voicemail). I have found that the same picture can evoke several different memories since each of us experienced the person in a different way. Filling out who the person was to each of us who is left behind helps us to understand the person’s life from a variety of perspectives. The person who died lives within us, in our hearts, and in the minds of those with whom we share the memories.
We can also think about what we learned from the person who died and in so doing, find new ways to incorporate them and their values into our own lives. When we do something they loved we connect with them. It can be as simple as making a commitment to read their favorite books or maintaining certain traditions such as cooking family recipes for celebrations, or taking up an interest that was theirs. After many years of wanting to learn more about birds, I finally am doing it and it brings me closer to my father who always loved watching, feeding, and talking about birds. Another way to create a legacy for people who have died is by supporting a charity they believed in; giving time and money is a beautiful way to commemorate their life.
2021 affected all of us in many ways with the pandemic and its disruption of our lives individually, in our families, nationally, and internationally. Closed schools and businesses, social distancing, and anxiety about falling ill have taken a toll on the population at large. All age groups have been affected by the different variants of the virus, either directly or indirectly. What seems to have been true for one strand of the virus is not so for another. We continue to live with uncertainty.
Now we have the emergence of the Omicron variant, which is affecting our lives in both new and familiar ways. Delaying the opening of schools and offices, managing children in the midst of our interrupted lives, and trying to stay safe, complicates matters. And after nearly two years, there is still disruption / anger about mask wearing, physical distancing and something as simple as washing one’s hands.
However, the new year can give us hope. We can look at this time as an opportunity to bring some positivity into our lives. Despite the reality of COVID, here are some tips for 2022 to support our mental health:
Monitor screen time: Take note of how much time you spend online and bring some balance back into the day and night. Most of us have spent more than what is “healthy for us” online and now we can pick and choose what is a reasonable amount, time of day, and the kinds of online engagement we choose to have.
Stay connected with family and friends: Spend as much time connecting with people who are healthy for you, who care for you, and with those for whom care.
Stay active: Whether you are alone or with others, keep your mind and body active in a healthful way. Try a new activity and ease into it so you limit the chance of injury.
Pay attention to how stress and interpersonal conflicts are handled: If the old way isn’t working, try something new. One is never too old to learn a new approach to changing one’s attitude about something or someone.
Be aware: Symptoms like poor sleep, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety can be early warning signs that need to be addressed.
Build resilience: See how you are transformed by challenges. The goal is to survive, yes…and then, hopefully, to thrive as we transform as a result of the experiences you have gone through.
I have included a link to a brief article by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith about how each of us is capable of choosing empathy: Where’s the Empathy? On Punching a Flight Attendant in the Face. I encourage you to read it and then consider incorporating empathy into your everyday life. We need it now more than ever (seems I have used that phrase a lot lately).
How many times have we sat in our cars at an intersection and watched people walk by, or be one of many walking on a sidewalk, on our way to work or to an appointment, or for exercise, oblivious to others who are on their own paths as we all share the same sidewalk? Often, we look past everyone else, each of us equally lost in our own worlds. And those worlds are filled to overflowing thoughts, feelings, experiences, hopes, worries, and dreams. But we don’t pay attention to the fact that every single person has a life. We rarely even consider it.
What if we reframed our perspective and considered looking at others as individuals with a life that we know nothing about? Often all we “know” is a quickly formulated impression. And it is highly likely that it is misinformed and inaccurate. It’s easy to make assumptions, judge someone, and put together a story in our head (which probably has nothing to do with the reality of that other person’s life).
Admittedly, it takes effort to be aware of what we are doing and when we see that we are tied up in our own inner dialogue. We can stop and think about what someone else may be thinking and experiencing. When we do this, we allow ourselves to try to understand another’s experience as it is for them. This is building a foundation for empathy and when we feel empathy for another person we connect with their humanity. And that is worth practicing every day.