Grief can be difficult to comprehend and explain. As such, using analogies can often help to unpick this topic. The four seasons is one such analogy. It provides a helpful framework within which grief can be better understood. Just as the seasons change, so during grief do our emotions, desires and energy levels fluctuate. The seasons can also affect our mood and our motivation as well as drive specific behaviours.
The following blog will focus on the seasonal nature of grief by exploring how autumn, winter, spring and summer reflect various stages of our grief journey. It will look at how the seasons not only influence our emotions but also present us with invaluable opportunities for self-care and healing.
In many respects autumn is considered one of our more beautiful seasons, with the air turning crisp and the trees exploding into colour – ablaze with vibrant orange, red and yellow hues. However, during grief, autumn can feel less captivating and instead feel heavy and frightening. As leaves start to fall from the trees, they act as a visual reminder to those mourning that life is transient and death is very real. Autumn can bring the passing of a loved one into much sharper focus and force those struggling with their grief to confront and accept the reality of their loss. And just as the trees shed their leaves and the landscape rapidly starts to change, so those that grieve can suddenly feel more exposed and vulnerable to the seismic shifts occurring in their life, as a result of their loved one dying.
However, the autumn months can also present those grieving with the opportunity to prepare for darker, stormier days ahead. By accepting the reality of their loss they are better positioned to let go of their old life and focus on looking after themselves. Self-preservation can come in many forms: reaching out to family and connecting with friends, making time for physical and emotional nourishment such as eating well, gardening or getting out in nature, or engaging in a period of quiet reflection, during which time those grieving can take stock of their life and loss. Autumn can encourage people to make time for their grief and establish their own personal support mechanisms in preparation for the gruelling days that follow.
During winter, the reality of grief is often driven home. As the nights draw in and the weather turns cold, the skies become grey and bleak and grief can feel unbearably heavy. Winter can mark a period of isolation and loneliness for those grieving, as they can lack the energy and motivation to engage with the world. And so, as the quiet descends, so can lethargy. Everyday tasks such as getting out of bed in the morning, cooking meals and going for a walk can feel impossible. As they retreat from others, introspection can give rise to anger, bitterness and jealousy. However, it’s worth noting that whilst these are all difficult emotions to sit with, they are also a perfectly normal part of the grieving process.
As with autumn, the winter months can create opportunities for self-healing. As the world starts to slow down, hibernation becomes a more socially acceptable practice. Hunkering down away from the elements can provide those mourning with the opportunity to rest, recharge and conserve their energy, so they can sustain themselves over the harshest of seasons. Winding down and taking life at a slower pace, can allow them the time and space they need to sit with their grief, work through their emotions and rebuild their motivation and energy.
Sometimes, people that are grieving feel the need to convince others that they are dealing well with their loss by staying busy. Cleaning and sorting the house, changing cars, sending emails, writing letters, being the perfect parent – this self-imposed pressure to be seen to be coping can prevent those mourning from really sitting with their feelings and processing their grief.
Putting the to-do list on the back burner and taking some down time during the winter months can help those struggling with loss to honestly evaluate what it is they really need to get through the days ahead. Learning to reach out and connect with those around them and refocusing attention on themselves will prepare them well for their reawakening.
As the dark and dreary winter days give way to spring, there is often a sense of renewed optimism in the air. Spring is synonymous with rebirth and renewal. From daffodils pushing up through the grass and leaves regrowing, to new lambs being born and warmer days, the world can feel a more vibrant place, one that is full of hope and new possibilities. Restored and re-energised and with renewed self-confidence, life for those grieving, can begin to feel brighter again. They may feel ready to engage with the world once more and take their first tentative steps towards a new life.
Tasks that felt challenging during the winter months may now feel more manageable. Having a clear out at home, redecorating, exploring new opportunities to learn and grow, making new connections and taking time to understand what it is they want their new life to look like, can all feel infinitely more possible during spring.
However, as with all things that are young and new, there is a certain fragility about them. Just as new bulbs in a garden require netting, support poles and watering to ensure they grow strong, take root and flourish, those who have recently lost a loved one must afford themselves the same care and protection. By prioritising their self-care and reaching out for support during this period of growth and renewed hope, those grieving can ensure that they lay strong and sustainable foundations for the next stage of their life.
As those dealing with loss begin to embark on their new life, it can be natural for them to second guess their actions, question their motivation and create false narratives. They may berate themselves for their decision to start over and may accuse themselves of disloyalty, believing that they have abandoned their loved one. However, it’s important to question whether these doubts are really grounded in any truth.
Whilst guilt and shame are all very natural feelings during grief, those in mourning are entitled to breathe new life into themselves. They deserve a fresh start, one that is full of hope and new opportunities. It is possible for them to move on and rebuild their lives, whilst still honouring and loving their person and taking them forward in their hearts and minds. By grabbing the opportunities that come their way, by being bold and steering their life in a new and possibly even better direction, by asking themselves what they desire, who they want to be and what values they wish to hold, they can start to stitch together a meaningful new existence.
In many ways summer is the season during which those mourning can witness the results of their efforts throughout previous seasons. They can start to see what they have achieved, what they have learnt and how they have grown as a result of their experiences. They can feel good about moving on with their lives and enjoy what they have created, perhaps in honour of their loved one or perhaps simply for themselves. With flowers and plants in full bloom once more, lush, green landscapes and longer, warmer days, the summer months can symbolise joy, optimism and positivity. During this period, those grieving may well move beyond surviving and actually begin to thrive. They may at last be able to find an enduring connection with those they have lost. They can grow comfortable with the integration of their old and new lives and finally be at ease with living the future they desire whilst also remembering their loved one with more joy than pain.
That said, it remains perfectly natural for uncertainty and doubt to creep in during this time, for even on the warmest and brightest of summer days, dark clouds can quickly gather. Whilst fear is natural, it should never hold people back and stop them from enjoying all that they have built for themselves. To avoid sabotaging their own progress, those grieving should try to focus on everything they have achieved up to this point: establishing support mechanisms, working through difficult emotions, laying the right foundations for a new life and finally finding some peace in the midst of their loss. By acknowledging and celebrating their own efforts, they can learn to allay their fears and embrace their new life completely.
Grief is not a linear process. It doesn’t run for a specific length of time nor does it have a definitive end point. Rather like the seasons, it is cyclical. From evoking various emotions to driving certain behaviours, the seasons can have a huge impact on a person’s grief and can mirror parts of their grief journey.
However, it’s worth noting that just as the weather is changeable during the seasons, so are emotions during grief. Even on the coldest of winter days, the sky can be bright blue and filled with brilliant sunshine. And, during the height of summer, as temperatures soar, storm clouds can gather, the sky can darken and torrential rain can fall. Just as people have grown to accept the occurrence of these odd unseasonable days, so they should, during their grief, learn to accept and let in whatever emotion they are feeling. During grief, thoughts will come and go and a person’s mood will naturally fluctuate. It is vital they recognise that whatever they’re feeling, at whatever ‘stage’ of grief, it’s all valid. Space and time should be created to sit with these emotions and process them, for they have materialised in that moment for a purpose - to help that person navigate their pain.
Grief is messy and it’s complicated. It’s not a race and it’s not a competition. It’s a uniquely personal journey. A person can feel like they’re making huge progress one day and then taking ten steps back the next. But it’s worth remembering that emotions just like the seasons are transient. Even on the darkest of days, when life seems impossible and grief feels relentless, just as winter gives way to spring, those grieving will blossom once more, learn to build a new life for themselves and discover new passions. They will continue to grow and flourish whilst still maintaining a deep and enduring bond to their loved one.