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Heartache and Joy Can Live in the Same Space

Kelly Grosklags, a nationally recognized speaker, author, therapist, and blogger at Conversations With Kelly, recently hosted a virtual Candle Lighting Ceremony over Zoom as part of the Lakewood Experience Series.  Kelly welcomed the group of about 60 people telling them there may be no harder time to reconcile the idea that heartache and joy can live in the same space than during the winter holidays.  “People often think grief is an either / or state of being. But,” she explained, “at any point in the grief process it’s as valid to feel sad as it is to feel happy.”

“Where we can get into difficulty,” she says, “is when we judge ourselves.” When people ask themselves, Why am I laughing when Dad just died? or Why am I so sad now, when my loved one died years or even decades ago? That’s what gets people stuck.

Instead of questioning your grief, start embracing what you feel, Kelly suggests. “Then, you can move with it in a better way.”

Kelly emphasized that our current normal–holidays during a pandemic–adds an extra layer of complexity. “People already feel isolated in grief. Last year there was a sense that we’re all in this together in regard to the pandemic, but that’s not working so much this year. It’s not as much of a consolation to people.”

What Kelly hoped people would take away from the evening’s discussion of grieving at the holidays is that however your grief shows up for you, simply allow it to show up. “Calendars,” she said, “are not the way to measure time in grief.”

Kelly just marked the fortieth anniversary of her mother’s death and told the group that the milestone anniversary was incredibly hard. “If people would have seen me from the outside,” she shared, “experiencing my grief, they may have thought my mother just died last week.”

A few attendees told personal stories. One young woman spoke of being on the cusp of a year anniversary after her loved one’s death. An older man spoke of his wife of over 50 years, who died two years ago. He told the group how the simplest activity that they used to share, like driving together, sparks such intense memories for him every single time he climbs into his car.

Although the group gathered virtually, there was a strong sense of connection and support that transcended the online-only event. You could see the emotion on faces and read it in the shared words of strength written in the chat. Two women from southern Minnesota realized they lived near each other and made plans to meet in-person.

As the evening ended, all who gathered lit a candle and shared the names of the people they grieved for. Kelly guided the group, “Light your candle. Say your loved ones name out loud and remember, you are loved.”

On the screen everyone was visible at once, their candles lighting up each individual square from their homes across the Twin Cities, greater Minnesota, and even a woman from Australia. When people shared the names of their loved ones it melded into a comforting harmony of shared heartbreak and strength. Kelly added, “May light find a crack in the darkness this holiday season.”

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