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.