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.
How you grieve will sometimes make others uncomfortable. From the day of your loss and for many years later, people will be watching how you remember the one you lost. It’s just human nature. If you laugh on the day of the funeral, some will wonder how you can be happy. If you cry ten years later, some will say you have not healed properly. Social media–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Shapchat–have provided a whole new dimension of opportunities, decisions, and scrutiny. Should you post something on the first anniversary of your loss? Is it too maudlin? What about the fifth or tenth anniversary? If you were to ask your friends and family you would likely get a mix of responses that would not help much. Certainly to live an emotionally healthy life there must be healing and you must find a new beginning, but ultimately your appropriate expression of grief is personal and not for others to judge. To use a current phrase–you be you. At the same time, your grief is mostly a private matter.
Today is the 28th anniversary of my marriage to Tina Sanges, and December 16 will mark the tenth anniversary of her passing. She hasn’t been my wife for a decade but I can’t erase this date from my mind, nor should I. Over time like the picture above those memories fade, yet I can’t help remembering and feeling the loss. It does not mean that I have not healed, it means I have a heart. For me, posting anything on social media seems inappropriate. I know this blog is exactly that, but this post is for the benefit of those I seek to help, not me (mostly). To make a memorial post on my personal social media pages is too much and would be more for show than remembrance, for me. Among my family, and friends who were close to her it is suitable to remember privately. For my children it is essential to talk about it. Obviously if I were remarried I would want to be respectful to my wife in my expression. That is a post to come later. Ultimately the way you handle anniversaries and meaningful dates is your choice alone.
Although you cannot adjust your true feelings for others, their reactions can help you discern what is appropriate publicly. There is no right or wrong, but you do have to admit that it can be difficult for people around you to know what to say or do. As much as they can’t tell you how to feel, neither can you tell them how to feel. People exposed to your grief truly don’t know what to do with it. It is uncomfortable, for you and them. Of course their are also those who will grieve along with you. Grieve in a way that you feel is appropriate and be okay with that, regardless of how those on the fringe react.
The last formal family photo with Tina Eubanks in March 2006, nine months before she passed away.
There are times after the loss of your mother when rational thought does not come easy. On social media people are posting pictures of their mother, and a mix of emotions emerge–pain, anger, regret, happiness. In your head you know that everyone who has their mother is doing exactly what they should … what you would be doing if your mother was still here. You would visit her, have a meal, give her cards, and tell her how much she means to you, but you cannot. I don’t know this feeling firsthand. My mother is still here, a survivor of cancer and cancer free for almost 30 years. When I was married in 1988 my mother was undergoing cancer treatment. She is still here, but the mother of my children is not. My children were 12, 8, and 5 when their mother passed away. Nearly a decade later, they miss her every day. Of course most people lose their mother at some point and it is always hard, but going through your childhood and teenage years without her is a unique kind of pain.
As a father of three hurting children I wanted to do what most men want to do, fix it, but this can’t be fixed. I tried many things and found ways to survive Mother’s Day. Decision number one was to skip church and don’t eat out on Sundays. It is too painful to see everyone else with their mothers. Decision number two was to do something different, not sit around the house moping. The first year I took them to the pet store and bought them all hamsters. I wouldn’t recommend you do that, really, but at least it gave us something to smile about that day and the stories we have are fun memories. For us, a mixture of diversion and remembering has worked. We have settled on visiting my mother most of the time. She and my wife were very close and the she is adored by my children. She has filled many mothering roles for them.
Deciding what to do is not easy. I had to try to perceive the thoughts and feelings of my children. Knowing what one wants during grief is difficult. Even the griever does not know for sure except that they want the one thing they can’t have. It is even harder to discern the feelings and needs of children. The key is to stop trying to make them feel a certain way. Listen, observe, and discern how they already feel. Address that. One thing I learned early on for them is that visiting the cemetery was not something that helped them at all, so we didn’t. That ritual is only for the living and if it doesn’t help, don’t do it. You have to find a middle ground of remembering without being maudlin, distracting without dishonoring. I can’t say I have always done it right. Most days we have moved on and are living the life before us, but on Mother’s Day she must be honored and remembered.