Learning how to deal with a 'tough season'.
Many people who have lost a dear one, whether a parent, a grandparent, a child, a friend, or a spouse, experience an annual "tough month," or "tough season."
It is month or time of the year that is especially hard emotionally. It's good to expect and brace for this, because it is rather predictable if one is coping with long-term grief.
This is usually a time where there was a lot of concentrated stress or unhappiness. It could be the month of the death, or could be a time of special anniversaries, or a time of year when all the family goes to the lake for vacation and now the dear one is missing. You just wish he or she could be there with you.
Mine is August -- the last days of my beloved husband Baheej, and then his death, then a big funeral and dinner, then a flight to New Hampshire for another service and burial in family plot, followed two days later by our wedding anniversary. For me, this "tough season" spans Aug. 11, 13, 15, 16 and 18. And it comes on the heels of Baheej's July 23 birthday, and my brother Nic's death on June 26. There you go -- it's a recipe for the surfacing of annual intense grief.
Long-term grief lingers for years, even a lifetime. The first year of my husband's death, I was lucky to still be in New Hampshire with my sister and brother-in-law, Noelle and Bud, on our wedding anniversary the 18th. That helped.
What should we do?
They say time heals, and I suppose that's true to some extent, but not completely. For many, the grief is still there years later.
So I'm caught up in all this every season, and have just moved out of my annual "Bermuda Triangle." What I do is to simply commemorate these dates and think of happy times the best I can, see a lot of friends, and try to do nice summer and early fall activities.
Fifty years is a long time; I met my husband in 1968. I was only 22 years old. So for me, there's no "moving on." One must just learn how to manage and cope with the big void.
A couple months ago I heard from an old friend, the fourth friend who has the same birthday as Baheej. She called me on his birthday, and hers. She had read the July 23 column and called to catch up. She lost a 41-year-old daughter fairly recently, which is very tough. It seems so wrong if a child dies before a parent.
So my advice is try to be aware of people around you who may be suffering from grief. Reach out. It's not complicated -- avoid stock phrases, and just say you are thinking of them and that you understand and feel sad for them.
This will help people with their "tough month."
* Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at email@example.com or see her blog long termgrief.tumblr.com.