Nature is a force, one to which we are intricately connected. If you have ever suffered the loss of a loved one, then you may already have experienced firsthand how grief tends to change with the seasons.
Whether trees are budding or being stripped of their leaves, or a magical snowfall is dusting the streets, each new season brings fresh reminders of loss. This is called seasonal grief. Not to be mistaken for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), seasonal grief occurs when the memories and tradition of each season reopen the wounds of a grieving person who has lost someone special.
Of course, integrated throughout the seasons are traditions and memories that may trigger sadness, anxiety, and emptiness. Consider a birthday, for example. When you lose someone remarkable, suddenly their birthday is anything but happy. Anniversaries not only remind you of our loved one who is no longer with you, but they take on a whole new meaning altogether. Post-loss, an anniversary can mark another trip around the sun that your loved one didn’t come back, another 365 days since their memorial service, or other devastating milestones.
In this article, we will explore grief and its miraculous ability to change with the seasons. Keep reading to learn strategies for grief management when the days darken.
Seasonal Grief in Autumn
If there is one season that symbolizes death and dying, it’s autumn. As the tree canopies become fireworks of scarlet and gold whose flames dwindle with each individual leaf relinquishing its hold and twirling languidly to the ground, we are reminded of how ephemeral life truly is.
Fall is the season of loss. And not just visually. Couple the turning of the leaves with the sweet, earthy scent of decomposition and the crispness that permeates the air, and we are suddenly inhabiting a very different atmosphere. It is due to this nature of fall that, in times of grief, we may be reminded of what we, ourselves, have lost.
It takes a fair amount of courage to endure these darkening months, which is why in Asian mysticism and Chinese medicine, Autumn is considered the season of grief and courage. For grief management throughout this season of grief, try these three tips.
1. Cook up some comfort food. Casseroles, fried chicken, chili. What do all these foods have in common? They’re comfort food. And we don’t call them that for no reason. These steaming hot high-carbohydrate, high-calorie dishes are often seasoned with nostalgia and sentimental value. Of course, to be enjoyed in moderation.
2. Get crafty. The act of creating, whether through art, photography, writing, knitting, or other activities, is so beneficial for mental health. According to experts: “Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain. It may also ease stress, increase happiness, and protect the brain from damage caused by aging.”
3. Take up yoga. After a loss, it is normal to experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Yoga is a fantastic form of self-care that focuses on balance. It allows you to sit and process your grief, while learning to be present. It is also an excellent reintroduction to physical exercise if you have taken some time off.
Seasonal Grief in Spring
Spring is a season of rebirth and renewal. The world awakens, the ground thaws, flowers bloom, and an ubiquitous feeling of celebration rides the current of a warm, fragrant breeze. The long winter is over.
However, feelings of frigid despair may not have drawn to a close for everyone. Grieving persons may still be in the throes of their own personal winter. When others around them are partaking in the joys of spring, another emotion rears its thorny head: guilt.
By allowing themselves to feel the natural happiness the season brings, grieving persons may feel as though they are betraying the memory of their departed loved one. This guilt will pass, but it takes time. How much is unique to each individual.
In the meantime, here are three tips to help reduce symptoms of grief in the spring.
1. Take a walk. Walking provides both the physical benefits of exercise and boosts your emotional well-being. It is proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the best part? You don’t need a gym membership to partake in this wonderful activity!
2. Focus on your breath. The benefits of nasal breathing are undeniable, as our sinuses release a boost of nitric oxide, a molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. Immune function, weight, circulation, mood, and sexual function can all be heavily influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body.
3. Do some spring cleaning. If you’re ready to sort through your loved one’s things, spring can be a great time to do so. Because the process itself may take an emotional toll, call a friend or family member to join you. While you should keep a few meaningful items that remind you fondly of your loved one, letting go of the rest can feel deeply freeing.
Seasonal Grief in Winter
With its cold and isolating nature, winter can be an especially challenging time for grieving individuals. Inclement weather often requires us to hole up indoors, especially when roads are snowy and icy. Sometimes, even driving to the gym to get the endorphins going can be unsafe.
This “most wonderful time of the year” can also pile on the season’s grievings, for in many cultures, winter is when several major holidays are celebrated: from Christmas to Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and more, each social gathering presents its own way of reminding you of your loved one who is no longer there.
But there is hope during the holidays! Try these three coping strategies to help keep your grief in check this winter.
1. Volunteer in your community. ‘Tis the season of giving. The most precious thing you can give is intangible and costs nothing: your time. Volunteer at a local animal shelter or soup kitchen. You will make a difference and undoubtedly many great connections!
2. Adopt a family. Throughout the holiday season, many families face the unfortunate reality of not being able to provide presents for their children. When you “adopt,” a family, you have the opportunity to make the holiday season truly magical for a child who might otherwise have gone without, and inspire a sense of giving in them, too!
3. Get lost in a book. Reading for enjoyment and escape is a wonderful way to reduce stress and symptoms of grief. But you don’t have to seek out solely fiction. In fact, reading books about grief, bereavement, and loss are written by psychiatrists and psychologists and help you understand what is happening to you and find ways to work through your grief.
Seasonal Grief in Summer
Summer is supposed to be a season of celebration. From weddings to graduations, backyard barbecues and pool parties, and a never-ending social calendar, summer can be a visceral reminder that everyone but you seems to be living life to the fullest.
You may even feel frustrated with yourself. The weather is warm and sunny, so why aren’t you? The truth is that grief doesn’t take a summer vacation.
Here are three tips to help you manage your grief throughout the summer months.
1. Be kind to yourself. Set realistic expectations. Simply because the weather is warm and sunny doesn’t mean you have to be. Allow yourself to feel sadness, anger, and emptiness, but try not to sit with those emotions for too long.
2. Exercise. Physical activity is an antidote for depression. Fortunately, summer offers many opportunities to charge your endorphins. Running, biking, walking, swimming, and playing sports are all excellent ways to relieve stress and ward off symptoms of depression.
3. Find a meaningful way to honor their memory. Celebrate your loved one with something sentimental and remarkable. Creating a memorial diamond from your loved one’s ashes or hair can be an incredible way to keep them close to your heart.
The Nature of Grief
If there is one thing we know for certain about the aftermath of losing a loved one, it is that grief has its own timetable. Post-loss, you cannot be expected to “snap out of it” or begin moving forward simply because the sun happens to be shining again.
Grief is a part of nature. It’s a part of life. As such, we must learn to manage our symptoms and seek professional grief counseling when necessary. And when your days get dark, remember, there is within us all, an invincible summer.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” - Albert Camus