By Beth Brittain
Morrie Schwartz, in 'Tuesdays with Morrie,' said “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Your loved one will always be with you, just not necessarily as you prefer. You hold them forever in your heart and memory, and no one can take that from you.
I believe that grief happens in the ordinary times of our life. It is in the day to day moments of life that we get some of the most intense grief experiences. It’s the doing laundry and finding one more of his tee shirts in the bottom of the basket and the tears come. It’s cooking a meal that has been the norm for years and realizing she is not there to eat with you. It is getting in the car and seeing a tote bag in the back that was hers. All these little grief moments are what really make up our grief experience. We can ‘plan’ for the big times: the holidays, family reunions and vacations, but the ordinary things just sort of hit us out of nowhere and the memories, tears and pain come to the forefront of our thoughts and experience.
Along with the ordinary times, I think grief happens in seasons. We somehow unconsciously mark time as the seasons change and pass (this is getting a bit harder in North Carolina as we really seem to have only two seasons now—wet and dry!). My favorite time of year is winter. I love cold weather and snow and really miss that in North Carolina now. I think it is a time to snuggle in and read, create art or music or just rest. Fall is a nice season too because nature puts on a show with the colors of leaves and the crispness in the air. Summer is my least favorite season as I don’t like the heat. Sure, it’s a time of vacation for some, but since I have no children, I can vacation any time and I try to avoid the crowds at the coast in the summer. People get out and about more until the heat and humidity become intolerable and then we air condition ourselves to keep from becoming grumpy and irritable. Spring, now that’s a lovely time. New life is bursting forth and everyone seems to have a bit more energy. It’s a time of hope and promise and we begin to see others outside because it’s not too hot yet and there are flowers to be planted and tended and animals to walk and often we are greeting neighbors more often in the spring.
Grief comes in seasons, too. It seems that the fall of grief may be when the changes are coming to our loved one as their health declines and they become more and more distant and dependent. We sometimes forget that grief doesn’t start with death; it starts with diagnosis. So, Fall grief often happens as the decline becomes more obvious. The Winter of grief for many is the actual time of death and memories linger of the days and weeks surrounding that event. We want to snuggle in and close out the world, but unfortunately, we have to continue living and being responsible, even though we are in the fog of grief.
The Spring of grief is likely when we are beginning to emerge from the fog of grief and perhaps resume a somewhat ‘normal’ life. We are able to join others for a meal without the rawness of our grief overshadowing everything. We can attempt new activities and learn new things and begin to emerge, not unlike a butterfly emerges from the cocoon or a flower from a bud. We may not be fully whole yet, but we are functional and contributing.
The Summer of grief is when we begin to enjoy (in a different way) aspects of life that we once thought we would never enjoy again. The meal we now are accustomed to eating alone, the daily work around the house, the time with family and friends that no longer makes us feel so isolated and odd are new realities.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Doesn’t grief just come in periods and we move through them somewhat like the seasons of the year and poof, we are through our grief?
It is so NOT like that. And it certainly is not as orderly as the seasons of the year. Grief takes as long as it takes and each season may last a different amount of time for different individuals. Each season of grief brings its own work and challenges and yet, as we work to move through our grief with intention and purpose, we do emerge, ever changed but no less beautiful and maybe even wiser than before.
So, what does it mean to do ‘grief work?’ It means allowing our feelings to come and to feel and express them as needed. It means talking about our loved one as much as we need to and to whomever will listen. It means talking with a grief counselor or trusted clergy or friend to get additional support. It may mean participating in a group that includes others on the journey of grief, so we all learn together what works for us. Mostly, it means holding close the memories of your loved one and honoring the way they lived their life by living your life to the fullest.
Morrie Schwartz, in Tuesdays with Morrie, said “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Your loved one will always be with you, just not necessarily as you prefer. You hold them forever in your heart and memory, and no one can take that from you.