I’m operating under the influence of fall. It’s a subtle disorientation that knocks me off kilter just enough for things to go sideways. One minute everything’s normal, and the next, I’m crying at a stop light because 15 years ago I didn’t go to see The Devil Wears Prada with my sick mother.
It happens every year, when the cool edge to waning summer nights and school buses taking kids back to school tell my brain it’s time to start ramping up the emotional energy. I agree that fall has its charms, but it’s precisely fall’s best qualities that have become intrinsically tied to my grief. The crispness of the air and rich colors all remind me of death and funerals and lost time.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m miserable this time of year; it’s just that the Earth’s rotation has brought me closer to my mother’s absence. I’m closer to the last place I found her. The same place where she left me. When I look into the big blue fall sky, I feel that maybe I could float away and find her–but I don’t because I’m tethered to Earth by so many precious connections now. So I guess it’s that sense of being close, but at the same time further away than ever, that leaves me feeling raw.
Fall is my grief season.
I wonder, do you have a grief season?
At first, it’s hard to distinguish your grief season from the rest of the year because every calendar flip brings painful reminders and secondary losses. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays lie scattered throughout the year like obstacles and impediments you must manage, each for the first time.
You make it through hurdle after hurdle until you finally flip the page and find the first anniversary of your loved one’s death screaming at you from a tiny calendar square. Forget about grief season; you’ve just experienced an entire grief year.
But it isn’t this way forever. I can’t say how it will be for you, but for me, over time, my grief became less intense and more manageable. Though my grief comes out of hibernation in the fall, it’s generally more diffuse, and there are fewer peaks.
It’s typical for grief to change as people adjust to living in a world without their loved ones (while loving them just the same). So most days, your grief may be, at worst, a quiet presence, and there will be periods where grief doesn’t monopolize your attention much at all.
But there will also be days and times when you feel the past pulling you back. And when that happens, you may bathe yourself in memories, re-evaluate and ask new questions, or feel a sense of yearning stronger than you’ve felt in a while. None of these things mean you’re backtracking or not “resolving” your grief. Your experience is normal, trust me. It’s the story we’ve all been sold about grief that’s wrong.
Untrue stories about grief
We don’t need to point fingers or discover why myths like finite grief and “grief resolution” persist; the bottom line is somewhere along the way, our society adopted the idea that proper grieving means working through it until you reach a place where you only feel fine and good. If you don’t feel fine a good, well that means you didn’t work hard enough.
I’ll admit it that I fell for it once upon a time, and I still sometimes fall for it now. I sometimes believe I should be past all this. If I could find better ways to cope, focus on the present, be grateful, find peace with mortality, and feel fewer feelings, I’d permanently reach a place of psychological contentment. But this isn’t how life works — life is constant ups and downs.
The truth is that peace and okayness after loss come when we learn to accept the occasional volatility of a grieving soul. And when we see that grief often isn’t a story with an end, but an experience that continues to ebb and flow. Of course, there are exceptions, but the point is that you’re not alone if you experience a grief season from time to time.
Humans develop object permanence (the ability to know things exist even when they can’t be seen or heard) before age one. We have long-term memory, and our capacity to love someone can endure, even after we no longer receive tangible expressions of love in return. We don’t have to move on from those we love if we don’t want, and quite often people don’t.
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