“Frank died in August. Why do I feel so bad now?”
The only thing truly predictable about grief is its unpredictability. Our feelings are a roller coaster – sometimes up, other times down. It may be months before we experience the full force of our loss. Immediately after a death, we may still be in shock. We are enveloped in support. We have so much we have to do – papers that have to be found and processed, legal affairs to attend to. All of this diverts us from our grief.
Nor is it surprising that the winter months can be especially difficult. There are many reasons that grief seems to flare in the midst of winter.
We have just finished a holiday season. Holidays are often difficult times in grief, times when we are most aware of the absence. Yet when the holiday ends, we still may have to deal with the residue of those emotions and responses. And now support has receded. We may even be impatient with our own inability to rebound.
Winter, too, in most of the country, is cold and dark. We are likely to spend more time indoors. This has a number of implications. We may feel the absence of the person more, remembering past winters as we sat next to a fire or watched television. The hours to fill alone seem endless.
We miss the normal diversions from grief that we experience at other times of the year. We may spend less time outdoors, less time with others. Perhaps even the lack of light contributes to a sense of sadness.
There are ways to counter these winter blues. Four C’s might help.
First, carefully consider them. Are there times of the day or week when they seem worse? For example, for Kathryn, weekends were more difficult. She realized that this was the time she had previously spent most time with her husband. Kathryn had learned over the time of her marriage how to fill the time that her husband was away working. She looked forward to their weekends together – working at chores, taking in a movie, just sitting together reading. She missed him most on these weekends. Here she felt keenly his absence.
Second, counter these blues. Once we understand their pattern, we can find ways to best respond. Kathryn made sure that she had a plan for every weekend. It might be as simple as cleaning a closet or as enjoyable as a night outing with friends. She was careful not to wander into the weekend aimlessly. She knew that doing so would only serve to engender those blues.
Third, we need to care for ourselves. Proper rest, good nutrition, attention to our spiritual needs, and regular exercise are all effective ways to strengthen ourselves. Unfortunately, winter can give us a good excuse not to do the things we know will make us feel better. There may even be special ways of care that ward off feelings of sadness. A quiet walk, a weekend trip with friends or family, or a visit to a spa can do wonders for our moods.
Finally, we may consider counseling. A counselor or a support group can offer us much: a place of respite, opportunities to discuss our reactions, suggestions for coping, support, even hope. And hope is one of the most effective tonics for those winter blues.
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