Who I am.

I write about the landscape of grief, nature, and the wisdom of fools. The author of four books, my essays, poems, and reviews have been published in over 50 journals, including in the Huffington Post and Colorado Review. I’ve won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay prizes, and my work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and named a notable by Best American Essays. My account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with my wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. http://www.markliebenow.com.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year of Grief

The first New Year’s after a loved one dies, the future looks like a rocky coast. There is no celebrating. No late night dancing. No sparklers or blowing of horns. No party.

We don’t know what to do or which direction to head. Because our loved one is not here, no matter what amazing things also happened last year, like a job promotion or a new car, the death renders them meaningless. We do not look forward to what is coming in the new year because most of our dreams involved the one who died.

On New Year’s Day, we get a little distance from our grief, although it’s an artificial one, because now the death happened last year. And because it’s in the past, this opens up a neutral space where we can think of something other than death. 

But just for a moment. Because, with our next breath, a new grief comes roaring in when we realize that we are being pulled on by the flow of time, while our loved one is drifting further away. After trying all year to keep them close, the gap between us continues to widen, and it feels like we are losing what little connection we have left. Now what we feel is a canyon of absence.

On New Year’s Day, grief is a morose bear in purple that sits next to us on the couch and occasionally reaches over to claw us.

New Year’s is the last of three holidays that are stacked back to back. They began with Thanksgiving, then Solstice / Hanukkah / Christmas / Kwanzaa, and now New Year’s. Each of them asked us to be happy and grateful enough to smile. This is the last thing we want to do because allowing ourselves to feel any happiness feels like a betrayal of our loved one. 

Many of us think of the New Year as the time to get a new start on our life, to set aside our mistakes and reclaim what we really want to do. This doesn’t work with grief. As much as we want to turn away from grief with the turn of a calendar page, we already know that grief has no artificial boundaries. We’re tempted to move to a place that does not hold memories of our loved, but we know that grief would probably travel with us.

Our fervent hope is that in twelve months, at next year’s New Year’s Eve, we will feel like celebrating something, even if it’s just that we somehow found the courage and strength to survive the year.


If you are by yourself as the new year starts, you may feel abandoned, alone, and stuck in the grip of death. I hope you will feel the presence of others and know that you are not alone, even if you don’t know anyone else who is grieving. No matter where you live, there are dozens of people in the neighborhoods around you who are dealing with loss. They are standing alone at their windows, staring out, and wishing that they had someone to talk to who understood. 

In the coming days, make connections with others. In your community, there are support groups that often are organized around who was lost—spouse, parent, sibling, stillborn child, or by the cause of death—cancer, heart attack, accident, suicide. It’s heartening to feel the strength and encouragement we get by sharing with others who are also struggling with grief

There are also grief support groups on the Internet with people who understand grief, people at places like Soaring Spirits, Modern Loss, Second Firsts, What’s Your Grief, the Manifest-Station, Refuge in Grief, Good Men Project, Option B, and Open to Hope. There you can share your struggles, find acceptance, and hear encouragement from others.

The New Year is a turning away from what has happened. It’s also a turning to.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed grief does travel with you - in every nook and cranny, every new place or undertaking. It hides in your pocket unseen to the people you wish could see.