I consider myself a fairly calm person. I don’t feel like I experience a lot of extreme highs or lows. But I do recognize that sometimes I feel more sensitive than at other times. Often I can chalk that up to a poor night’s sleep, coming down with a cold or flu, or just being a little more hormonal than usual. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the ups and downs to see if there is anything else going on. What I’ve come to realize is that some of those times are actually times of grief that are precipitated by what might, at first, seem like a small loss. If I don’t notice and acknowledge the loss, the sadness just stays there, under the surface. It might increase, at times to feeling like tears are just under the surface or a general increase in irritability. Eventually that feeling might dissipate, if I don’t pay attention to it, but over time, I notice tension in my body, sore neck or shoulders, heartburn, or nausea.
If I acknowledging those losses, instead of ignoring, minimizing or judging myself for feeling sad, then I can then grieve them. This the first step to self compassion which is a healing balm to grief. Once acknowledged, I can better see what I need to do to care for myself in this time.
Here are some of the types of losses that often go unacknowledged in our lives:
In my part of the world, the seasons are extreme. Hot, buggy and humid changes into wet, cold and windy, then becomes dry, life threateningly cold, and inhumane. This transitions into bouts of warmth, that often involve rain and flooding, before heading back to the hot and buggy. That’s a pessimistic version of our seasons. We also have some beautiful days. Transitioning from summer through fall and into winter is the most difficult for many people. For many of us, winters past, have at times, felt unbearable in length and intensity. As the fall progresses I start to wonder how bearable this next winter will be. How often will I get sick? How many days will the pipes be frozen? Will the furnace give out this year? Will the car make it through? Then there’s the daily challenges of leaving the house in -40C when skin can freeze within minutes, needing to walk to the store or wait for a bus, or scrape off the car and have the heat only kick in half way to my destination. This, along with the treacherous nature of ice on roads and sidewalks, causing falls and crashes, limit how much I want to be outside, or how I choose to travel.
I have a physical memory of these times in winters gone by. This is not something I’m always conscious of when the weather starts to change from summer to fall, but there is an underlying sadness even though I find Autumn a beautiful time.
I find that acknowledging where this feeling of sadness comes from, the loss of the days when I could just walk out the door any time without risking frost bite helps me to prepare for the coming of winter. For me, I know that I need to spend some time recalling the parts of winter that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and make a plan for more of those thing. Things like cozy nights around the fire, potlucks and boardgames, Christmas, skiing, and snowfalls. There is still loss, but in acknowledging it, I am also able to acknowledge the potential of hope of goodness in the next season.
For more on this check out Winter Blues;
and Cities and Belonging.
Elections, set backs in social justice issues, evidence of changing social norms, are all areas of social change that can affect us in profound ways. Hopes we may have had for our future and the future of our planet can be seriously challenged leaving us feeling hopeless and grief filled. Sometimes these changes challenge our beliefs about humanity which can leave us feeling like our foundation is being shaken. We might wonder if living with integrity is worth it, if no one else seems to share our values, or at least, not enough that it seems to make a difference.
We need to acknowledge this grief, in order to not lose hope. We need to acknowledge the size of the loss and it’s repercussions. Then we need to search out those who share our desires for social change and partner with them. Sometimes we will need to simply grieve together. We do need to acknowledge our limited role in making a change in the world, as an individual, and grieve the amount of influence we thought we had but didn’t, and then look at where we do have influence and use it to make connections with others, learning and knowing that more is more when it comes to community and social change.
With this grief, often comes anger. If unacknowledged or not processed, anger can become bitterness and hopelessness. Sometimes addressing this anger means, that we need to listen to those we disagree with and work towards understanding, an understanding that is not based on the idea that others are simply, evil or selfish, but on the assumption that everyone wants things to be better, but not always in the same way, and not always by prioritizing the same people. If we cannot find understanding, we will not be able to effect change.
For more on this check out When the Stakes are High – Caring for Your Mental Health When Debating Things That Matter;
and Climate Grief;
Changes in stage of life
My adult life has been characterized by several distinct stages. There was a stage of being single and finding my way and myself, spending time with friends, building skills and investing in communities and causes I cared about. Then there was a time of getting to know my partner, getting married and establishing a life together. Then there was a time of trying to have kids, pregnancy, loss, and having babies. After this came the years where I spent significant amounts of time at the playground, in my backyard or on my living room floor managing babies and toddlers alongside friends with children the same age. Countless hours of visiting, cleaning up spills, comforting crying children and managing kids conflicts. Later, as the kids grew, our family homeschooled for a time and we were immersed in the homeschooling community, attending field trips, parent meetings and working with our kids on a daily basis while juggling our own jobs and household responsibilities. Then the kids went to public school, I was working more and shuffling kids around to after school events and finishing university. These days, many of my friends have kids who are graduated or graduating from high school, some of whom who are leaving home. Schedules change, hobbies change and time to ourselves may be returning incrementally. This is also often a time of re-evaluation of our lives, careers, self care and relationships. Some of us have started making plans for retirement, considering housing as we and our families age and preparing for and engaging in more elder care as our parents age.
In each transition, there have been losses, lost connections with friends, and changes in the way we connect with our kids . There have been changes in jobs, in daily schedule in the amount of time alone and in the types of activities we do. Some of these stages transitioned slowly and others very abruptly.
When I’ve been able to notice the changes and acknowledge them I’ve been more able to process what I’ve felt and care for myself better. In this way, I’ve also been able to notice what was being lost and determine where I might be able to re-balance what is no longer there.
Grief comes silently, at time, not always identifying itself as itself. Sometimes we need to look around to see where the extra tiredness, sadness or irritability is coming from in order to address. it.
For more on grief, check out Grief Without Death