Autumn as an Opportunity to Reflect on Grief
Fall is a time of letting go. The trees drop their leaves and their energy retreats to their trunks and roots. In us, this energetic brings a time for reflection, and accepting loss. It gives the space for the reality of the present to catch up to us after the several summer months of play and abandon. In my office this time of year, many of my patients are bringing up losses and griefs. People don’t just grieve people and animals who have died. People grieve lost ideals, and the relationship they could have had but didn’t, and the job they didn’t get, and the car that was totaled, and so much more.
Grief is about connection. Where the leaf was once connected to the tree, now it is released, and lost, and gone. Where we had a connection with a person, or an animal, or an idea, that connection is severed or somehow rendered impossible, and it is time to let go.
While psychologist Kubler-Ross listed and enumerated stages of grief, there is no prescribed amount of time it takes to move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (in no particular order, and they can be revisited). In Judaism, grievers are allotted 7 days to actively devote themselves to grieving, and then the whole year after that they are still considered in grief and are permitted to say a particular prayer during this time, and then the whole rest of their lives they light a candle and say a prayer for the departed. Buddhists’ mourning period spans up to 90 days. Hindu traditions have flexible mourning periods ranging from 10 to 30 days. Muslim traditions of mourning are varied and depend upon the sect of Islam as well as the individual’s relationship with the deceased (www.healgrief.org). While I was in acupuncture school, one of the masters of the five-element model of acupuncture said, “there is an idea called ‘the two years of grief.’ A person must go through each of the five phases (the elements, which correspond with particular seasons) in the loss of the person two times.”
The first time, the acute loss of the connection is felt and accepted within each phase.
1) Winter: Remember a time they listened to you, or a time they were afraid for you.
2) Spring: Remember a time they were angry with you.
3) Summer: Remember a time you played with them.
4) Late Summer: Remember a time they took care of you, or you took care of them.
5) Fall: Remember a time they cried with you.
When you take the time to acknowledge the ways the person showed up for and with you while they were there, you are working on the “first year” of grieving.
The second time, the gifts of this connection are harvested and understood within each phase.
1) Winter: Remember a time they taught you wisdom and trust.
2) Spring: Remember a time they taught you right from wrong.
3) Summer: Remember a time they taught you propriety and boundaries.
4) Late summer: Remember a time they taught you loyalty and service.
5) Fall: Remember a time they taught you values, and what is essential.
When you take the time to reap the gifts and life lessons this person brought to your attention, you are working on the “second year” of grieving.
Though we call this “two years,” it often takes much, much longer than that. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
You also may find that the “steps” of these years don’t happen in sequence per se, and it’s fine to do things “out of order.”
As you move through grieving a connection, you can lean into this process by intentionally recalling the emotions of the five elemental phases of energy as they relate to what you are grieving. Work through the items listed above as they relate to this person. Write it down, or talk it out, or make art about it.
Bottom line: there is no right way or time to grieve. I hope this helps to give you some ideas about grieving, wherever you are in your process.