Compassion is the Most Precious Gift

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes a blur of sights, smells, memories and hopes. Some are pleasant and even joy filled. Others are tender, painful, and heartbreaking. The dissonance that so many of us feel as we navigate “the most wonderful time of the year” can be very disconcerting. Loneliness, resentment, and jealousy can dig in as the disparity between the haves and have-nots becomes clearer.

People living with grief know about this. I’ve heard many refrains like, “I just want to get through the holidays so I don’t have to pretend to be happy” or “I wish I could just be alone because without my loved one, nothing is the same.” There are many people in our communities feeling like this, yet how would we know when we pretend to feel differently as we go about our lives in public?

Opening and Closing

How can we live consciously and lovingly through the holidays when we are broken-hearted?

I often refer to the sea anemone as an image to meditate on when it comes to the rhythm of opening up and closing down. When a sea anemone is open, its tentacles are free and flowing. They can discern what to take for food as it goes by and be nourished by the environment in which they live. When there is a threat of any kind, they retract and become hard and closed off.

Throughout every day, people move through this flow between open and closed. But like the anemone, if people stay closed for too long, they are less likely to be nourished by their environment and can become starved.

Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun who has written extensively about keeping our hearts open and staying in contact with our experience of life and with other people. Her books are always nearby as they help me to remember the importance of staying in relationship with compassion for myself and for others. Her words help keep me open and available to the wisdom of lived experience, no matter how painful, and to other people.

Here is one such example: “Sharing the heart is a simple practice that can be used at any time and in every situation. It enlarges our view and helps us remember our interconnection… The essence of this practice is that when we encounter pain in our life we breathe into our heart with the recognition that others also feel this. It’s a way of acknowledging when we are closing down and of training to open up.”* She goes on to talk about thinking of others when life is joyful and when life feels like a burden.

Staying Open to Compassion

What might this look like as we navigate the holidays? Here’s a couple of examples:

~ One may be struggling to organize themselves to shop for gifts because their grief for a lost loved one is profound. Rather than castigating themselves for not getting it together or succumbing to bitterness for the fact that others are not dealing with such pain, they might instead take some time to be with the heartache. They might breathe into it and know that there are many others in the world who are feeling pain from grief, too. In that subtle shift, what is happening is that tendrils of connection are formed. From that place, a wish could be made that might be something like, “I wish for us to be held in our pain and to not feel alone as we learn about grief.” They are not alone, and with that subtle move, they can open into feeling rather than close down.

~ One may notice something on a walk that makes them feel connected to the one they miss. Maybe feelings of comfort and tenderness surround them and tears of love spring from their eyes. From this place, they can hope that all who are suffering might feel such a beautiful peace as they navigate the holidays. They can continue to feel the reverberations of that moment and let it carry them to the next moment.

Compassion Spreads

We have these opportunities every day, to sit with what is and spread out the awareness of each moment to connect with our ties to others. This, I would say, is more important than going to all the functions and doing all the things that often wear people out this time of year. As we take these moments for ourselves and practice the art of being with what is and extending compassion to ourselves and others, we allow ourselves to be nourished deeply and fully.

In our hustle-consumer culture, it’s easy to forget what is most essential to being human, and that is love. Love and grief are intimately connected, and if we can remain focused on this love, we might find more moments of connection than we even realized possible with our own family members, with people we pass at the grocery store or are stuck next to in traffic, with friends and with ourselves. If there’s one gift you give yourself this year, let it be developing the practice of extending compassion to yourself and to others. This truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

* Pema Chödrön excerpt from, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Bradie Hansen is co-author of  The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It (Compassionate Grief Book for Healing After Loss): Blair, Pamela D., McCabe Hansen, Bradie: 9781728262666: Books

Read more from Bradie Hansen: Maintaining Contact with the Dead Heals Some Grievers – Open to Hope


Bradie Hansen

Bradie McCabe Hansen is a licensed psychologist- Master, who’s been in private practice for over twenty years. She has worked with children, adolescents, and adults, especially around issues to do with depression, anxiety, grief, addictive or abusive use of substances, developmental transitions, and trauma. She is the co-author of the newly released book The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It as well as the article “The Wisdom of Regret”, published in the Assisi Institute Journal. In addition to Bradie’s clinical work, she teaches weaving and helps to manage the fiber studio at the Shelburne Craft School in Shelburne, Vermont. Certified as an Archetypal Pattern Analyst and a Weaving a Life Leader, Bradie has the unique opportunity to help people use weaving and fiber craft to work through life stages and passages, grief, and moments of choice. As a psychologist, Bradie worked with individuals around complex life experiences for many years, but it was the sudden and traumatic loss of her mother in 2017 that opened her eyes to the lived experience of long-term, complicated grief. Grief altered her capacity to socialize, complete mundane errands, and carry on with many of the responsibilities that had previously been part of day-to-day life. After a particularly challenging time of sleeplessness and stress all to do with the rigors of grieving, she found herself learning how to weave on a four-harness, counterbalance floor loom that had come into her possession. Her teacher showed her how to thread every heddle, and sley every dent in the reed. The repetitive and mindful motions required for dressing a loom helped her find her way back to herself. While Bradie was already teaching children about the wonderful world of handcrafting, the gifts she received from weaving were expanded, and she now tries to bring the healing potential of handcrafting to clients and students. Bradie shares, “There was no thinking my way out of the pain I was feeling. No problem solving could get me through it. No timeline applied. But engaging in something as tangible as weaving helped me to connect with myself and with the threads that connect all people to each other. Weaving is a part of our ancestral DNA. Through the simple process of interlacing threads, I was able to weave comfort over my broken heart and find my way back to community and my own creativity. Now, I just want to share that gift that I received when I was at my lowest point with other people.” You can reach Bradie through her website: and you can find her book, The Long Grief Journey, on Amazon. Additionally, Bradie and her co-author Pamela Blair will be regularly contributing to the Long Grief Journey Blog which you can find here:

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