Grief and the Change of Seasons
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
There is an oft-quoted Bible passage that has permeated mainstream culture: "To everything there is a season, a time to grieve..." When you are in the season of your grief, you may notice that nature's change of seasons may affect you. As you experience the change from winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and fall back to winter, not only does the temperature and landscape change, but so, too, does your grief.
The first year after you have experienced the death of a loved one, you may mark time by remembering the significant and even the insignificant events of your life from the previous year. You may catch yourself thinking, "Last year, at this time, we were..." Your memories of those seasons of life include your loved one and you may be painfully aware that when the season comes again, you will have lived a whole year without him or her. This reality confirms what you may already have known – the physical presence of your loved one is lost forever, just like the last hint of snow that melts into the ground. And with that realization comes a new sense of how time and the seasons pass.
The subtle changes that signal the approach of a new season observed by others, may be overshadowed by the grief that looms over each passing day. And then, before you know it, time has continued to tick off minutes, hours, days, weeks and months, and you are confronted with a new season that brings with it more change, stress, and grief. Instead of looking forward to the change of seasons, you may dread what that brings without your loved one.
With each new time of year, you may find that your mood does not fit the season. As the weather turns colder and forces you indoors, you may feel even more alone and isolated in your grief. The shorter days amplify the darkness you may feel in your soul. As spring arrives, you may feel like you are in the winter of your grief, only to be surrounded by new growth, new beginnings and people who talk about things like hope and anticipation of warmer weather. Summer months are often spent doing family and outdoor activities that may heighten your sense of loss. The days full of despair may be longer than you would like them to be. It may be a beautiful day, but you may feel stone cold inside. As the leaves fall from the trees in the fall and the growing season ends, you are reminded of the dullness and drabness of your life. Your grief may be in its fallow time, where everyday looks pretty much the same and you have very little hope that you will ever be happy again.
When you do get in touch with the beauty of the season, you may regret that your loved one isn't with you to share it. That's why it is so important to surround yourself with the beauty of each new season. To remind yourself that while you may be in the depths of your grief, you are surrounded by life. Surround yourself with living things in order to reassure yourself that just as the seasons change, so, too, will your grief. When you go outdoors, breathe in fresh air deeply to replace the stagnant air of grief. Take a moment to feel the breeze against your face or the warmth of the sun against your skin. To remind yourself that you are still alive, even though your loved one has died. Plant and nurture things to reassure yourself that things will grow with care. Remind yourself often that your grief will ease if you honor it and take care of it. Indeed, you may find yourself growing in ways you could have never imagined. Find others who will hold your hope for you, when you have no hope. Others who will remind you that right where you are is where you need to be, that you will not always be in the depths of despair.
Imagine yourself as the fragile little crocus, buried beneath a mountain of frozen ground. A tiny crocus that was planted with the hope that it would emerge as a beautiful flower to herald the coming or spring. The crocus is one of the noblest of flowers, because it does most of its work beneath the ground, unobserved by others. And though there is no evidence of its hard work on the surface, it continues along its difficult path, forging ahead with courage and determination. And, then, one day, it bursts through the damp and cold ground, long before other flowers, to renew hope in life and the passage of time. Others may not see your grief or recognize the hard work that you are doing. But hold fast to this truth – where you are right now in your grief is where you need to be. Even though your task is daunting and may seem senseless at times, you will one day unfurl your petals through the density of your grief toward the warmth of a new life filled with new beginnings.
If you have no seeds of hope, let someone else plant them for you. Surround yourself with others who will tend to you, encourage you and provide an environment where you can do your work. Remember, time alone will not heal your grief; it's what you do with your time that heals your grief.
Trust in the rhythm of your grief and carry on with courage and determination.