Preparing for Winter Blues, Anniversary Reactions, and the Unwelcome Return of Grief

Fall has come to Minnesota. The trees are turning gold and orange and red. White-winged Juncos, birds in the sparrow family and harbingers of winter, have returned to the backyard feeders. Nights are colder, and there is frost on the lawn in the mornings. Much as I love fall, I’m always a bit uneasy because I know winter is coming. Living in this changeable climate requires preparation and courage.

Winters can be beautiful. We usually have several ice storms that glaze the trees with ice and turn the town into a fairy land. Fierce wind chills, however, and temperatures of 35-40 below zero, must be taken seriously. Radio programs tell parents to cover their children’s faces and hands. Old, worn, unfashionable coats are pulled from closets and donned with pleasure. Minnesotans don’t care how they look as long as they are warm.

Brutal weather and dark winter days can awaken my grief. My daughter was born on November 23rd, Thanksgiving that year, and the holiday is always difficult. She died on February 23, 2007, an odd coincidence. Three other family members, my father-in-law, brother, and my twin grandchildren’s father, also died. Experience has taught me that I have to prepare for anniversary reactions.

These reactions – reminders of a loved one’s death – can be anywhere. According to a Mayo Clinic website article, “Grief: Coping with Reminders After a Loss,” reminders can ambush you. “You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your partner loved or when you hear your child’s favorite song,” the article explains. It goes on to say these reactions can trigger sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, sleep problems, fatigue, and pain.

What do I do? What can you do?

Write like crazy. Writing is my salvation and solace. Losing four family members in succession changed the focus of my writing. I stopped writing health books and wrote eight grief healing books. Though my goal is to help others, writing these books helped me immensely. You may record your feelings in a journal or diary.

Have blooming plants in the house. You may have a green thumb, but I am Mrs. Blackthumb, and have not had much success with gardening. For some unknown reason, I have success with African violets, and have four in the kitchen. There is a giant African violet on the coffee table. Once it starts blooming, this violet produces flowers for two months. Every flower is a source of joy and hope. Blooming plants may bring you similar pleasure.

Spend time with friends. Since I’m my paralyzed husband’s caregiver, I can’t connect with friends often. When I do connect, however, I make the most of it. My husband is a retired physician and I belong to an organization for physicians’ spouses. Our goal is to improve community health and I believe in it wholeheartedly. I retired from some organizations, but retained my membership this one.

Give to others. I give workshops and talks to community groups. Sometimes I mentor fledgling writers and it is always a satisfying experience. We donate money to community groups that have meaning for us, such as the Salvation Army. After our daughter died we gave money to our church to commission a choir piece in her memory. The piece is beautiful and every time I hear it I get chills. Think of ways you could give to others.

These steps help us beat the blues, cope with anniversary reactions, and enjoy each season. Rather than being caught off guard, we are prepared, strong, and ready for life.

 

 

 

 

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Robin Botie says:

    Thanks Harriet. These are the four things I would recommend to grievers as well. After I lost my almost-adult daughter I wrote her letters, bonded with a plant that wrapped itself around my daughter’s photo, found friends who knew what it was like to lose the light of their life, and started to volunteer in our community. It all made me stronger. Cheers!

  • Harriet- Thank you for submitting this for the Open to Hope newsletter. Winter is the toughest time for so many people- your practical tips are excellent!

    I particularly love your suggestion to “write like crazy.” Writing was the #1 most comforting tool I found after losing several close family members. I still like to add to the stories, even years later.

    I appreciate your beautiful contributions to Open to Hope. Your articles are favorites of mine, because of the threads of hope and joy woven through your writing. Please keep ’em coming!
    Beth Marshall