The author of Ecclesiastes in the Bible tells us that there is a season for everything (chapter 3, verses 1-8). Our bodies and minds adjust to and respond to the changing seasons. The seasons define the rhythm of our activities throughout the year, and mark the passage of time. So, when we suffer a great loss, we are often surprised by just how much our grief throws us off our rhythm. We know we are mortal and there is a time to die (v2). We know there is a time to cry and a time to grieve (v4). But, our bodies and minds are not prepared to adjust to losing a child. There is no appropriate season for out-of-order death.
I first heard the term “grief seasons” in an online bereaved parents’ group. I learned that grief counselors and therapists use this term to refer to an extended and annually repeating period of time in which a person’s grief recurs. We expect to feel grief on specific dates: our child’s birthday, death day, wedding day, holidays, etc. But, for many parents, there can be an extended period of weeks or even months that contain enough significant dates that there is little relief for their grief the entire time.
For me, my grief period tends to start at the end of October and extend through early April. Roughly half the year. This doesn’t mean that I am in deep mourning and not functional this entire time. But, it does mean that, even 5 ½ years after losing Rachel, I still feel her loss and have more periods of sadness during this span of time than the other half of the year.
October 31st – Halloween – is Rachel’s birthday. Until she was about 4, she thought the festivities were all in celebration of her! It was a fun time to have a birthday party. Friends could come over in costume and celebrate her birthday, and then all go trick-or-treating together. I have not had the heart to keep my porchlight on and give out candy on Halloween since she died.
Thanksgiving was special because, once they were grown, Rachel always went to her older sister’s home for the holiday. It was a tradition they started when Rachel was in college and her older sister was married. Regardless of how or where we celebrate Thanksgiving as a family now, there’s always an empty chair at the table.
Christmas was a big family affair, and once again, while the family has grown to include grandchildren and in-laws, there’s a hole in my heart because my family is not complete. Right after Christmas 2016 we were busy finalizing plans for Rachel’s wedding in February. It was a sweet ceremony and a happy time for all of us. Two weeks later was her husband’s birthday. There was so much to celebrate the winter of 2016/17.
But, then just two short months later, on the Tuesday before Easter, Rachel died in a car accident.
That first year was an entire season of mourning. We barely acknowledged most holidays. I was still working, but honestly, my peers and team members carried the load. There was very little sowing, reaping, mending, building, or anything else productive about my activity. Most of my time was spent weeping, mourning, embracing, and searching. And praying. So much praying.
Each year since then has been different. I retired. My husband and I sold our home of 25 years in Tampa, uprooted, and moved full time to the river. We have healed from the deep jagged pain and we laugh again.
Still, every year as the sun starts to set earlier each day, the light in my heart dims a little. In addition to planning for meals, decorations, gifts, holiday pageants, and special church services, I have to plan for the grief I know will accompany most happy occasions. There will be tears when I acknowledge that my daughter should be celebrating turning another year older. I time the tree decorating for when my husband is away from the house. I can cry over the ornaments that Rachel made in Sunday school, and be dry-eyed by the time he gets home. I can pick a strategic seat at church in case a certain hymn or verse makes me weep and I have to escape.
Sweet grieving parent, if you have been concerned that you aren’t “recovering” from losing your child because you still have cycles of grief, please know that these cycles are normal. “For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.” You will have seasons of mourning. And, that’s okay. We cannot fathom everything that God has done, so we must trust Him in every season. We have His promise of eternity that He has set in our hearts (v11). There will be no more death, mourning, or crying (Rev 21:4). What a beautiful season that will be!