Here in the UK, we have said goodbye to Winter and spring is upon us, bringing with it longer days, the hope of better weather and for many a renewed vigour. However, is this the case for those that are grieving? Does spring signal the end of a darker period of mourning or can the changing seasons be worse for those that are grieving? We look at how the seasons can affect grief, and strategies to help you cope.
Grief and the Seasons
Even for people not dealing with the loss of a loved one, the changing seasons can profoundly affect our mood, motivation, and general happiness. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is linked to the seasons, also referred to as ‘Winter Depression’. SAD is thought to be caused by shorter days and lower exposure to sunlight in the UK during the winter months, resulting in changes to hormone levels including serotonin and melatonin that influence mood and sleep respectively. People that suffer from SAD usually start to feel better when spring arrives, and the feelings don’t tend to resurface until the clocks go forward and winter approaches.
However, does grief affect people that are grieving worse in the winter? Of course, there is no absolute; every one that grieves will do so differently. The timing of death, the relationship to the person that has died, the suddenness of the death, and how an individual personally handles their grief will all contribute to how the process evolves. Particularly, an individual’s outlook on the situation will influence what affect the changing seasons have.
Whereas many people will be feeling more hopeful as spring approaches the case for those grieving can be murkier. Spring is traditionally a time of rebirth and regeneration, which can present a challenge for those that are grieving. The thought of starting afresh, creating new memories without the person that has died, trying new hobbies, or building new relationships can feel like a betrayal. As such spring can bring an increase in feelings of grief. It is important to understand that it is ok to carry on, to start a new chapter without the deceased while also honouring their memory.
Spring can be a great time to do something special in memory of your loved one. For example, planting a flower or vegetable garden to nurture and watch flourish over the coming months. Whether at home, at an allotment, or even at your loved one’s grave if permitted, watching the seeds that you have planted grow can be a lovely way to connect with your memories of the person that has died.
Grieving in Summer
Summer is like spring in that the whole world appears to be enjoying long days, holidays, fun and laughter. Just because the sun is shining doesn’t necessarily mean that the world is a bright and happy place for a person that is grieving. You may also find that your support network lessens as people spend time doing other activities. As with any other time of the year, your experience will be unique to you, and you may indeed find that your grief is easier to deal with during the summer months.
During the summer many people’s routines change, they spend more time in nature or travelling. If you feel comfortable doing so you could continue with the traditions of summer that you had with your loved one whether that be a regular evening walk or holidaying in a specific place, revisiting these shared activities may be a precious time for reflection. However, it is also perfectly acceptable to build in some new routines that are just for you.
Grief In Autumn
Autumn can be a difficult time for many people, as the nights draw in and the mercury drops, as the leaves fall from the trees and wildlife goes into hibernation, the reality of death becomes more pertinent. The reality of losing a loved one is felt more profoundly by some people, however, it is also a great time to start some new activities that can help sustain you through the colder, darker days ahead.
Are you artistic? The beautiful autumn landscapes present a fantastic opportunity for painting or photography. Learning to knit or sew are brilliant hobbies and you could use your new skills to make something in memory of the person that has died or even as gifts for others. Is interior design your thing? Take this opportunity to give your home a fresh coat of paint, or even just some new soft furnishings. It may feel like you are wiping away the memory of your loved one, but it is important to build a life for yourself and autumn would be a great time to try something new.
Winter is often a peak time for grief. Not only are the days shorter and darker, but people also retreat into their homes as the weather turns, potentially meaning more alone time. There is also Christmas and New Year which can be difficult for a person that is grieving. We put together some ideas of how to cope with the First Christmas after the Loss of a Loved One in a recent blog, and you can also read about coping with New Year here. Whether it is the first Christmas or several years after the death you may like to mark the occasion by maintaining some of the traditions that were dear to your loved one. It is also okay to start some new traditions of your own if you would like to.
Seasons and Grieving
Everyone’s grief journey is individual; however, you may find that the seasons impact your mood depending on the routines and rituals that were special to you and your loved one throughout the year. If you are struggling to cope with grief it is important to seek support from a professional, Steve can help direct you to the most appropriate service and is linked with a network of experienced grief counsellors.
It is important to remember that creating new experiences for yourself does not take away from the shared memories that you have with the deceased. Utilising the changing seasons to focus your energy on both reflecting on the happy times you had with your loved one, but also forging a new life for yourself can help you to find a path through the grieving process.
Endorsed by Grief Specialist Joanne Goodwin-Worton