Grief Also Has Its Seasons


March 21, 2018 11:17 AM

Lately, I hear more and more people anxiously awaiting — when will spring weather finally arrive?

Here in Pennsylvania we experience four seasons. Throughout the year weather and nature change as we transition from one season to another. Winter into spring may be the most dramatic of our seasonal transitions.

In many ways grief also has its “seasons.” Certainly there are transitions. Some can be drastic — like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. Some can be more subtle as we move through this difficult, often lonely journey called grief.

In William Bridges’ books, “Transitions,” he talks about three aspects of transitions. There is always an ending and a new beginning. In between those two is something he calls “the neutral zone.” At this stage of transitioning we can often feel lost, confused, off course. He presents an analogy: you set out in your boat from one shore paddling to another. In this neutral zone you may find yourself in the middle of the lake. You can no longer see where you started from nor is your destination on the horizon. Again, you may feel lost, confused, uncertain of where you are going. He assures us that this is normal and part of the transition process.

In many ways it speaks to the journey of grief. We are transitioned into a journey. It is often not one of own choosing. You may lose your job or be diagnosed with a serious illness or a death may occur. Even when we know death is imminent we often feel unprepared for what lies before us. And along this journey there are many transitions and many times when we might feel lost, confused, uncertain.

Grievers sometimes share that they no longer know who they are. The loss of their loved one has created a loss of identity. One young child after the death of her only younger brother asked her mother, “am I still a sister? Who am I now?”

In this “neutral zone” we might feel lost and alone. Hopefully, you will have companions on your grief journey. It might be a trusted friend or support group or counselor. It might be books of others who have taken the journey. Even with companions we still may feel this sense of loneliness and confusion. “Where will I wind up? When does this journey end?”

It’s been a long, cold, dark and dreary winter. Many are anxious for spring, hoping for sunshine and warmer temperatures. We are tired of winter. Grievers also can be anxious for the end of their pain and sadness. Some wonder if they will ever make it through and what does that mean?

As one who has the privilege of being a companion for others on their journey, I often remind grievers that they will feel better. They will make it through despite their weariness and confusion. I offer to hold hope when they feel hopeless. I know that “spring” will return. I cannot predict for them what kind of “weather” they will experience along this journey but I do know they will make it through — the neutral zone — and reach their “new shore.”

As we are transitioning from winter into spring we hope April will bring sunshine and warmer temperatures. We know we’ll have some dreary days but we look for the flowers to begin to bloom and buds on the trees. We are anxious for the familiar signs of spring.

Along our grief journey we may not be aware of signs of change but we do hope for an end to our daily pain and sorrow. Better days are coming, I can assure you. It may sound impossible but you will see the light of life again. You will find yourself. You may be changed by your loss or transition but you will find you.

Hang in there. Spring is here. Better days are coming.

Evelyn Wald licensed professional counselor specializing in grief and loss and the program director for Tides.

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