Seasons do effect people and summer is no exception. Many people feel better in the summer because the pace is more laid back, they can take vacations, and the days are longer. For some, however, the summer months are a struggle. If this is a hard season for you it may be due to lack of structure and routine, friends and family being away on vacation, or lack of stimulation on long days that cause you to feel down. Perhaps you have summer memories of someone who is gone and you wish they were still here. To overcome the things you can’t change, you have to take advantage of the things you can.
Go outside. Some people avoid the heat at all costs and that is certainly understandable, but you cannot let the long hot days keep you in the house. When grieving you have a tendency to withdraw and maybe even sleep a lot because sleep is an escape. Neither of these will help you heal. The longer days of summer give you more opportunities to get out even if it is in an air-conditioned car, restaurant, store or mall. Garden in the early morning or late afternoon. Sit own the porch and drink coffee. Don’t stay shut in with the curtains closed. You need the clarity of daylight and the benefit of a little vitamin D from the sun. You need a feeling of accomplishment. Get out and face the day head on.
Invite someone. A person that is grieving will often sit at home alone feeling left behind by everyone else who is moving on with there regular routines. Meanwhile your regular routine has been interrupted permanently. Do not wait to be invited, invite someone. Don’t just watch the activities friends, family, kids, grandkids and wish you were a part of it. Invite them to do something. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown vacation. Invite them to dinner, take the kids to a waterpark or pool, or go out with a friend for a of cup of coffee and a little catching up. When you are grieving you don’t realize that you often send signals to others that you want to be left alone. Take the initiative and show people you want to spend time with them.
Get exercise. If you are not a warm weather person you tend to avoid activities that will make you hot. The benefits of exercise on improving emotional health are tremendous. You cannot afford to waste this precious resource. It helps fulfill your need for routine and empowerment. It gives accomplishment and you see positive physical results. It releases the gift of natural endorphins which will elevate your mood. Find ways to take advantage of these benefits. If the heat is an issue, there are ways to get exercise and avoid excessive heat. Swimming is an excellent choice. The water keeps you cool and most communities have indoor pool options. For aerobic or weight training, more and more gyms are opening up in which you can get exercise in an air-conditioned environment for as little as $10 a month. Even if you choose to play golf or walk in your neighborhood, the longer daylight hours can help. Just get up early or go out after dinner when the sun is not out but there is still daylight. Take an indoor dancing class. Just move.
August ushers in the dog days of summer and it is a great time to leverage your opportunities for positive change. Grief takes your power away and to overcome it you must regain some power where you can. Summer offers opportunities to heal.
We call this season the most wonderful time of the year but for many it can be the most difficult. If you are in the latter group, you undoubtably are caught in a mixture of hope and hurting. Even over the last two days, I have friends who have lost family and other loved ones. No matter what time of year loss is one of the deepest pains, but even more so at a time in which most people are enjoying family and friends. You want to smile, you know you are expected to be happy, but your spirit is just not having it. If you are blessed to have others around you who also feel the loss it helps. At least you can hurt together, talk about it, and hopefully even find some reasons to laugh as you remember.
The above picture is from Christmas Eve 2006, one week after my children lost their mom and I lost my wife. The smiles are genuine but not indicative of the emptiness inside. In fact it has been a 10 year journey in which we gradually have enjoyed Christmas more every year. Some years we took bigger strides and some smaller, often depending upon other life factors besides the loss, but now we are at a very happy place in our family. I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Time heals all wounds.” Instead, I think in time we adapt, grow, and begin anew if we are healthy. The grief doesn’t go away, we just start again, and that is our most powerful ability.
If it is Christmas Eve and you have lost someone today or ten years ago, you must strike the balance of remembering but also living in the present. If you can find some reasons to smile and laugh, do not hold it back or feel guilty. You are going to hurt so when you don’t, embrace it. This is one of your greatest healing gifts. Give yourself permission to be happy. If you know someone else who is hurting or lonely this Christmas, reach out to them. Helping someone else in pain is a good way to ease your own, at least for a while. You can’t force happiness but you can seek it. Your chances are much better of finding it if you make genuine efforts. Allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to laugh and begin anew.
As I write this, there have been many recent high profile deaths in the news. In such places as Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, Paris, and Nice, hundreds have been killed in escalating climates. We see a few memorials on the news, but most of the talk is about who is to blame. Across social media people pontificate about the causes and solutions but make little actual effort to make things better. While all of the chatter continues, families and friends of the ones who were lost are grieving. They will get lots of help, and media attention on the days before and the day of the funeral, but when they go home their lives are forever changed. For the rest of their lives their loved ones will be part of a news story forever linked with this era, but it will not bring them back. If you know any of these people, they need you for the days and years to come. Most who read this will not know any of these grieving people, but you do know someone else who has had a recent loss. Reach out to them.
Hearing of someone else losing a loved one can bring back the pain of their own loss. This is not to say they will never be happy again, but part of their happiness is gone forever. More than ever they need to know that people around them care. Because of the ease of communication in our time it takes little effort to send a text, email, Facebook comment or inbox, Instagram DM, Snapchat–the list is endless. This is a nice reminder that someone out there is thinking about you but they need much more than that. It is all too easy for a grieving person to stay in the cocoon of their home and read messages and marinate in their pain. They need more than messages or even phone calls. They need the touch of interaction with someone who cares.
In the beginning invite them to dinner, coffee, or for a walk. Allow them to talk without judgement. Resist the desire to tell them how to feel. That just makes them hurt more. Just listen, even if you don’t agree with everything they express. They just need to vent. If you put in the time they are more likely to allow you to help later. Invite them to do some things that will distract them, such as a movie, concert or party but don’t force it early on. When you do go out be sensitive to the fact that any of these things may bring memories which can bring sadness. Don’t get angry just let it be. It has to happen. Hurting people must go through the dark times before they can see the sunshine again. If you really care, travel closely with them through the full journey. A friend that will do that is a rare and cherished one. Helping one person around you might change the world.