Adapting to the season of grief

A picture post and reflection on living with grief and adapting to the season of life in which we find ourselves.

If we think of the procession of our lives as seasons, then many of us would prefer less of autumn, the season of loss, and less of the dark chill of winter, and more of the bright hopefulness of spring or the cheerful flourishing of summer. (Although there are aspects of winter and autumn that we might enjoy, I’m thinking about a general preference here.)

However, winter is where we are at the moment in this hemisphere, or at least close enough. The trees are denuded of their leaves; the air is cool and damp. It’s starting to be frosty some mornings, and we are having some very blustery and soaking wet days. 

A wintry walk

Yesterday was sunny and I took the opportunity for a long walk. It has been several weeks since I’ve been out, due to weather, health and other factors.

What a welcome change to layer up, put on the walking shoes, fill up my small flask, and head out. The route I chose was the Tissington Trail in Derbyshire – not far from home by the back roads, and not so busy that social distancing would be an issue. It is a cycle track and John went off on his electric bike while I walked.

The scenery had changed since I was last here. The sun was sitting lower in the sky. As I walked northwards, the path climbed gradually, and the wind blew cooler. It smelled differently to earlier in the year; now there was the deep rusty scent of fallen leaves. Bird song was distinct; I spotted blackbirds and was aware of robins flitting around. The colour palette had changed. The grass was a deeper green. There were still occasional splashes of reds and golds, but mostly browns of every shade. Trees stood proud and distinct, their complex lattice of branches easily visible.

(continues below)

The beauty of branches
It’s still berry season for birds
The Tissington Trail in Derbyshire

Choosing the route

I always enjoy this walk, but I often choose this particular route in winter for a couple of reasons. The track is easy to follow and has a good surface – it’s easier than ploughing through wet mud on the walking paths that I would have preferred at other times. The principle reason, however, are the views.

You don’t see the views as much in summer, as the trees hide much of what is beyond the path on each side. Now the the wide open vistas are plain to see. There are fields and rolling hills; in the distance I spot the route of another track (the High Peak Trail) and the copse of trees on the hillside at Minninglow (a ‘mysterious ancient burial site’). There are sheep grazing peacefully and distant church spires. The longer you look, the more there is to notice.

As I walk, I drink in the views. The scale isn’t as vast as it would be in the Highlands of Scotland or the Lake District, but these views are conveniently close to home. They’re a sight for sore eyes. It’s certainly more expansive than the view from my desk or in my back garden. There is a feeling of wideness of space and always more to see. It’s good for the soul and I feel my perspectives widening.

This season is not a choice

There’s a point to this post beyond sharing a few pictures. It’s something I reflected on while I walked.

We don’t get to choose the season. Autumn is turning to winter; there’s no stopping it now. The days are shorter. The trees are bare. The last flowers are not going to survive the frost for much longer.

We don’t choose the autumns or winters in our lives either. Difficult things happen. We lose jobs; friendships fall apart. We face illness. A pet is injured. The boiler or another essential household device breaks down. We have to cope with lockdowns during a pandemic. And, most significantly, people we love and care about die. The death of a loved one can bring us into the deepest, darkest, coldest, loneliest and bleakest of winters.

We don’t get to choose this season of our life anymore than we choose the season of the year.

Yet even in the darkest and coldest of winters, there are days which are better than others. There are sunny days. There are days when we are cheered by the sight of a robin.

And then there are the choices we make to help us cope with the winter. We can’t change the weather or make the hours of sunlight last longer, but we can adapt. We can wrap up warm and venture outside. Bring a hot thermos. Wear sturdy walking boots instead of summer sandals. Put on a wooly hat if that’s what we need to protect ourselves from the icy wind. Choose a walk that is appropriate for the weather (just as I picked the Tissington Trail yesterday).

These are small choices but they make a difference to how we feel and to how we experience the season.

My trusty thermos flask

Adapting to our season of grief

This relates directly to our grief. We can’t choose the season of our lives – if this is our season of loss, this is our season of loss. But we can adapt. We can ‘wrap up warm’ to enable us to withstand the wintry blasts.

What does ‘wrap up warm’ mean in your grief?

Is it a chat with a friend? Leafing through photo albums? Listening to music? Playing music? A nice meal? Poetry? Aspects of your faith? Reading a good book or losing yourself in a film?

The way to survive this season of grief is by adapting, and a lot of this has to do with taking care of ourselves. (Read more about taking care of yourself while you’re grieving here.)

Winter does not last forever, and even within winter, some days are better than others. Just so, some days in our grieving will be better or worse than others. That’s the nature of grief. It can be hard to allow ourselves the ‘luxury’ of a better day, but we need to be kind to ourselves. That’s the only way we will make it through day by day until spring.

Oh yes, let’s not forget that spring follows the bleakness of winter. It won’t always be like this. The trees are dormant now, preparing for what comes next. Perhaps you are too? Our lives keep changing.

If we can only get through these toughest of times, then there is hope, and this brings me to the final picture. John picked me up at the end of my walk. As we set up the SatNav to go home, the message seemed amazingly appropriate. “Continue to Hope”. The actual village of Hope was on our route home, but it means so much more, doesn’t it?

Continue to hope.

Find out more about the Tissington Trail here  

Continue to hope: The trees are dormant now, preparing for what comes next. Perhaps you are too.

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