It is fall. As the trees get barren and the air is cool many people experience stronger feelings of sadness, distress, or depression. With the decrease of sun-lit hours comes an increase in dark thoughts for many. And as the air gets colder we withdraw into our own four walls and isolate a bit more. Often this reverses as winter comes because we then feel a need to break out of isolation and reach out to others. But in the transition time of autumn loneliness is a large presence in many lives.
There is something natural about this. After all, fall marks the end of a time spent in sunshine and joy. It begins with the communal work of harvest and celebration. But as the celebration ends we find ourselves indoors, away from the activities that bound us to others this past summer, isolated and facing our own company. Just like the flame of a candle flickers brighter just before the wind snuffs it, the harvest celebrations seem to be a last flickering of community and sharing before the dark nights of winter descend.
For whom this sounds too dark and melodramatic here are some thoughts to ponder:
- Around Halloween (end of October) there are more criminal offenses than on most other weeks of the year.
- There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that depression and suicide rates increase in November (and February).
- People working with the elderly often notice that there is a higher possibility for defeat and death in November (and February).
- And in general we often just feel tired, “out of sorts”, and grumpy about the weather when the summer sun moves on to southern skies.
But what is there to do about this? After all, we can’t change the weather patterns – yet. And just pretending or pushing through doesn’t always cut it, neither. To be honest, sometimes we just have to sit through it.
What we experience in fall is grief. We are grieving summer, sunshine, freedom, time off, community, and joy. Maybe we are grieving the ease of our relationships in the freedom of summer explorations, or the freedom from work and studies that we experienced for a couple of weeks. We are more aware of the restrictions that life (and we ourselves) places on us and we grief the dream that underlies our reality.
Grief is an emotion of the heart. It is the opposite of joy and compassion. It pulls us in and asks us to move from one known way of being to another, new path. It asks our hearts to let go, detach, and allow a new experience in. Often we see grief as a deeply disturbing and painful emotion. It tears at our hearts and seems to say that life is over. However, if we allow ourselves to sit in the grief and listen we will hear that what it says is that life as we knew it is over and that other life in possible.
The pain of grief shows us our deep attachment to a certain person, thing, or situation. It requires us to acknowledge that attachment and to consider who we are without it. Grief asks us to let go of our outside identifications and to turn inward, to turn to our own hearts, and to find there the love, support, and compassion we need to survive.
Grieving another person is acknowledging and honouring their meaning in our lives. It means remembering the gifts they have given us, the challenges they provided that made us grow, the support they gave when we faced our own demons. It also means acknowledging who we were because of them – and who we are and can be without them. It is a process, sometimes long and difficult, sometimes shorter and easier. When done properly it always brings us back to ourselves and our place in the world and in the lives of others. It cannot be done by avoiding the sadness, the anger, the loneliness, for those are the feelings that show us the degree of our attachment and of our learning. Grieving needs faith: faith that our hearts are capable of healing us and our lives; faith that we will grow and live and love again; faith that life itself always has the power to touch our hearts.
Every year we move through a short period of grieving – twice. In fall we grief the openness and ease of summer. In spring we grief the intimacy and depth of winter. When we learn to sit with this grief we allow our hearts to grow, to acknowledge the gifts we received, to detach from that which is unnecessary, and to deepen and take in that which makes us better people. It doesn’t need to take long – a day or two, sometimes only a few hours. Only if we are trying to fight it, if we want to hold on beyond the possible, will we experience ongoing pain and sadness. If we feel it and let go we will soon find a new path to joy within ourselves.