Documenting December Daily In The Midst Of Grief and Loss

December Daily in Grief and Loss

While preparing for December and for the rush and the added  joy of creating December Daily, I have been going through my old albums. I have participated in December Daily for eight years, and have seven completed albums. Those albums are a journey through some of the most difficult years of my life, and when people ask me why I do this project, I am sure to tell them that I do this project because every album reminds me of the joy I have found in some very, very dark days. Sometimes our grief, and trying to just make it through the holidays, completely stops us in our scrapbooking tracks.

If you came to my blog today, it is highly likely that you too, are grieving the loss of someone special in your life, or are curious how to document the more somber moments of life that inevitably happen. Please accept my deepest sorrow for your loss, and my prayer is that this post will comfort you and help you move forward in your grief process. Today I wanted to show some of the ways I have dealt with my own grief and hardships in and through my December Dailies.

I have two small disclaimers in the writing of this post. The first is that I am going to show a few photos of my older December Daily albums that may not be of the best quality and most certainly are not Pinterest worthy! I think all of us who scrapbook know that we have evolved in our tastes and our product use. I do hope, however, that the pages I am going to show you are of value simply because of the stories they tell, and will inspire you as well, to find stories to tell that reflect the reality of your life.

My second disclaimer is this: please know that every grief journey is incredibly unique, sensitive, and sacred. The way I have chosen to write about and share my grief in my December Dailies might be completely different than how other people might do so, and I think that is wonderful. The pages I have to show are in no way an end-all, be-all to doing this, but perhaps they will spark a story for you. If nothing else, I pray this will help us all not feel so alone in our journeys of grief and sadness.

First allow me to share a bit about my personal journey, so you can understand how and why it is that I came to write about documenting grief while creating December Daily. Eight years ago my mom died a really tragic, early, difficult death to cervical cancer. All my grandparents and my dad had already passed on. At the time she died, I was a nursing mother of two. Not long after my mom died, my (already abusive) marriage of 13 years fell apart and I had to get myself out and to safety.

Around that same time that all that was going on, Ali Edwards created her first December Daily. I did not participate the first year, but the second year I did. It is important to know that when I created that first album, my mom had been gone for a little over a year, and while my ex-husband is in that album, he was not living with us at that time. 

I mentioned that when my mom died I was a nursing mother; I had an older son and my baby daughter. My little girl was a miracle who came to me in the midst of death and dying - they say with every life lost a new life is gained. I didn't find many words in my December Daily that year to say about my grief, per se, but I did create this layout in the album:

December Daily Documenting Grief

All I included was a photo of me and my daughter, and I will admit it is not the best photo of me but it was probably about the only photo that was taken of me at all that Christmas. There is no journaling, only a simple title, The Greatest Gift. If I could have put into words, I might have written how much I was grieving that Christmas because mom wasn't there. I might have written how much I adored my daughter because she was so special to me. And I might have written how she (and her brother) were keeping me alive during that time.

I couldn't find those words. And really, it is so much ok. This layout is just fine the way it is. I know the significance, and that is all that matters. Perhaps one day she will ask me, Mama what does that mean? and we will have the loveliest conversation about how special she is to me. But what is most important to me is that I included that tiny bit that acknowledged for me, what I was feeling at that time. And it did so in a most simple, uncomplicated way.

I have another example, and it comes from the following year, 2009. In that year, I had literally just moved out from my ex-husband's home and our separation was finally done. I know that Ali Edwards has written and documented a bit of her own journey through joint custody, and every story she has shared has been something that I personally can relate to. In my December Daily that year I included a story about having to be without the kids:

More Than I Can Bear

I know it might not be so easy to see, but the title of this layout is More Than I Can Bear. The photo is of all our jackets on the kitchen door that day, and I journaled about how the next day those jackets wouldn't be there:

As I got the kids ready for their Dad’s house I stopped to notice our three jackets on the door. It’s so hard to let them go, knowing how quiet the house will be for the next week. Lots of changes but one thing remains: I love you both.

While this might not particularly be about grief of losing someone, it is one way to document the melancholy that we sometimes experience during the holidays. One of the most difficult parts of grieving: the fewer place settings at the table, the empty chair, the phone that won't ring.....the literal, visual changes around us that occur because that special person in our life is simply not there. That loss shows itself in some of the most uncanny ways, but those ways provide a means of telling part of your story. I encourage you to seek out the ways that highlight your grief, and document those.

Sometimes naming the specific ways our grief shows itself in the every day moments can help us heal the most. Simply the act of stating the day to day ordinary voids acknowledges the true reality of our loss.

I know that grief often freezes us in mid-sentence. It stops us in the middle of our every day life, the rhythm is broken and the rhythm restarts but we are not ready for it to restart. I know that sometimes those photos are too difficult to even look at. If that is where you are at, please know that is ok. Then put those photos away and work with photos that bring you joy. Can I honestly say that writing about those jackets brought me joy that day? No. I was clearly feeling very melancholy the day I journaled about those jackets. 

Sometimes I do work with photos that don't necessarily bring me joy, but that I feel as though I must write about this and deal with this today or else I might burst. Only I can know what my level of tolerance is, and there have been times that I pulled out photos to work with, only to turn the lights off and crawl into bed in a teary mess. Sometimes that will happen, and I will put those photos away for a while. Other times that will happen, and I will get up the next morning and find a fresh outlook, and can finish that layout.

I think it is important to try.

I think it is important, when the photos bring tears, to step away, cry those tears, and treat ourselves with special grace. Talk to a trusted friend about the emotions that photo brought to you. When you feel calmer, look at the photo again. If it still brings tears, put it away until later. Allow yourself to feel those sad feelings. Allow yourself to talk about those feelings, work through those feelings, and then try again. Allow yourself to put them away forever, if you feel that need.

In the same year, 2009, on Day 12 I had to attend a funeral for the father of one of my childhood friends. My friend and I have been good friends literally for our whole lives.  I can't ever remember not knowing her and her family, in part because our parents were life-long friends. This same friend had held my baby girl at my mom's funeral, so when her father passed unexpectedly I knew I had to go be there for her. I didn't necessarily need to include the funeral in my December Daily, but I did use the opportunity to honor my parents:

Tribute to my Parents

Again, this is not the best quality photo (it's a scan from the family photo album of a photo taken around 1983!), but the purpose of this layout is to tell a story:

Today I learned of the passing of Tim *****, father to one of my lifelong friends, M*****. In this time of her loss, I am remembering my own losses. Her dad, like mine, gave so much of himself to the church, school, community, and us. Thank you for all you did.

That was all I wrote, and all I presented publicly about this event, and it is just right. 

Write your own reflection of an event and use photos that show what you were reminded of through that event. This is great to do if the event made it difficult or impossible to get a photograph. Let's say, for example, that you attended an opera performance. It was an opera that many years ago your father had sang to you. Absolutely reflect on his singing to you and use a photo of yourself and your dad. This takes the story of going to the opera to a completely deeper level, while allowing you to express your own feelings that event brought out for you.

Sometimes grief can bring about some wonderful things. The following year, in 2010, I went through some dramatic changes in my life. At the time of this December Daily, I was a single mom and was laid off from my job. I was struggling in a way I can't even explain. The entire month of December I poured myself into making magic for the kids, and into making December Daily. I am pretty sure I used all product I had stashed in my closet, and this was one of my favorite layouts:

Left Side, Hair Cut
Right Side Hair Cut

One thing about grief and struggles, and often the most difficult to believe while experiencing the worst of it, is that sometimes there is a dramatic shift. Now I am not going to tell you that grief will ever go away, because a part of that grief will remain with you for always. But sometimes you experience a shift in your grief and that shift can show in very positive ways. For me personally, I had lost my sense of self. Even my self esteem, and anyone who has struggled in an abusive relationship is probably very familiar with this, had all but disappeared. Between that and my grief, I could barely hold my head up.

My journaling for the above page reads like this:

I seriously haven’t had a haircut in two years! There was never time, or money, or whatever. So I was wearing my hair in a ponytail every day and feeling like I just blended into the wallpaper.

C***** asked me to e-mail her with 5 things that would help me in some way, and I included this one wish. Sire enough, she booked me an appointment at S*****.

The stylist (A***) did a fantastic job, and I love it! But wow, what a difference it has made to me, just to feel like “somebody” again.

The reason I wanted to include this layout in a post about grief is because there is light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel. Documenting that journey brings us an unexpected view into the direct changes that happen to us - one day those changes become beautiful and amazing. And sometimes, we even are able to document finding joy again.

No, it won't be joy like you knew before. It will be bittersweet, sometimes angry joy because you can't believe you can't pick up the phone and call that person. It will be unbelievable, because you aren't supposed to continue living or perhaps you feel like you shouldn't be happy again. Sometimes you have just a moment of joy and then days of unbearable pain again. I am not going to tell you that a simple hair cut changed my life, and that one layout was not in any way the end of my sadness or grief or struggle. But it was the beginning of finding my way right where I am right now. Still healing, still processing, but definitely embracing this holiday and this December Daily. I pray you will find that joy, too.

See you again soon,

~Theresa

**December Daily is the creative brain child of Ali Edwards, whose amazing website can be found right here.  It is a process of documenting December memories one day at a time. I am not affiliated with Ali, but I am a long-time customer and love using her products. I know you will find inspiration through her products and blog and classes as well.

Would you like to share the ways you have documented your grief within your December Daily albums? Please feel free to link up or comment below! Also feel free to subscribe so you can get more great content in your inbox.