Grief Low Season

Jun 23, 2024

Every year after Father's Day, I enter what I call my grief "low season."

Since my dad's sudden death in 2020, I’ve viewed my year differently than the typical calendar: I have my own "grief year," which I’ve decided is similar to an organization's fiscal year. My grief year has its own start date and end date. The last day of my grief year is Father’s Day, and the next day the sun shines a little brighter for me. I wake up peppier. 

I’m writing this as I’ve made it to the end of my 2023 - 2024 grief year: I've gotten through the fall/winter holiday season, my parents' birthdays, my own birthday, my father's death anniversary, Mother's Day, and, now, Father's Day is in the rear view mirror. Woohoo! This season has finally come to a close.

And that means from June through late fall/early winter, my grief goes on summer vacation. It hibernates. And, even though I’ve noticed that my grief low season runs over the summer, the anniversary of my mother's death falls over the summer, too. That particular date tends not to phase me as much, though; Mom’s death has been part of my life for over 20 years now. Even the anniversaries of my grandparents' deaths, including my Nana who died almost two years ago, don’t feel as debilitating as those other major dates I mentioned. My grief low season feels so much more tolerable to me.

When I first started writing these reflections, I was thinking about this time of year as my grief “off season.” But that’s not quite right. To use some grief-speak, the dual process model says we oscillate between loss-oriented coping and restoration-oriented coping in our grief–  i.e. sometimes we cry into our pillows and sometimes we get an ice cream cone to take our mind off of things. My grief low season means that I'm in restoration mode (mostly) for the next few months. What I like about the dual process model is that it gives me permission to never not be grieving, per se— our grief doesn’t ever really turn off. My loved ones aren't magically back in my life, so my grief will never be “over.”  But, during my grief low season, I'm not as focused on the losses as my primary way of processing my grief; I'm focused this summer on my own self care…including ice cream. (I also imagine the timing of my own grief low season has something to do with the traditional summer vacation schedule that's been etched into my mind since I was a kid.)

We all need periods of restoration to keep moving forward in this world, where the depth of our pain isn't at the forefront of every thought we have. I think we can build this grief low season mentality into our daily lives, too. The dual model of grieving can be every day: our grief doesn't have an on/off switch, but it does ebb and flow. And we don’t have to feel guilty about that, like we’re not grieving enough in those restorative moments. It’s all grieving, and it all matters for our wellbeing. (Yes, eating ice cream can be a part of grieving. You can quote me on that.)

Four years into having two deceased parents, today I better recognize patterns of my own grief highs and lows. Knowing my grief high and low seasons helps me better schedule my time, particularly when it comes to work, and be thoughtful about what types of supports I seek out at different times of year. For example, February and March are not the best times of year for me to schedule high pressure work, if I can avoid it: big talks and other things that make me especially nervous can be paralyzing when I’m already feeling overwhelmed by grief. I can’t always work around my grief high seasons, but I’m learning to at least avoid overscheduling myself on the dates that I know can be the hardest (i.e. my dad’s death anniversary in March.)

I want to end on a special note for those in the Grieve Leave community whose grief is acute, fresh, and especially dominant in your life right now. In the earliest days of grief after a tremendous loss, it can be hard to imagine a grief low season, when the high tide and pounding waves feel unrelenting. And maybe you’ve been reading this blog post while you feel like you’re drowning, rolling your eyes at me a bit. Thanks for sticking it out to this paragraph. Eventually, the high tide will recede. You will find restorative moments, I promise. And until then, this community is here to help you feel seen during your seemingly-never-ending grief high season.

Head over to the Grieve Leave Instagram and let us know what you think about grief low and high seasons. What months are the worst and the best for you, and why do you think that is? Have your grief low and high seasons changed over time? 


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