Forget stages, my grief flows through seasons

My late husband Jim and I enjoyed looking for the first signs of spring together. It was almost a contest between us.

The first new green blade of grass. A crocus. Pussywillows. Melting frost percolating to the surface of the driveway, making one end of it a muddy sluiceway.

Tom turkeys strutting their stuff in front of the flocks of hens obliviously eating in the yard. The raiding of bird feeders by the bear just awakened from his den behind our house.

Discussions turning toward getting ready for spring dog events and camp.

These forget-me-nots populated themselves on the grave of our Brittany dog Rosie, who died before Sassy came into our lives.

These forget-me-nots populated themselves on the grave of our Brittany dog Rosie, who died before Sassy came into our lives.

The first signs of life trying to take over after the death of winter injects a lightness in our spirits and gives us hope for longer and warmer days that we can fill with all sorts of activities and occasions with family and friends — and dogs.

It is a time of renewal.

As Easter renews our spirits, life popping out of the bare ground and springing from woody branches gives us pause to take a deep breath before plunging headlong into the next season.

Grief can be like that too.

Counselors will teach you there are generally seven accepted stages of grief: shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance or hope. Not everyone progresses through them all, or in the same order or at the same rate.

I wouldn’t argue with the experts necessarily, but I think grief goes through seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. It seems cyclical rather than lineal. Just as the seasons vary in their intensity from year to year, so does grief vary in its seasons.

One winter may not be as bad as the last or the next winter may be worse than the one before. It depends on what triggers the storms. But the thing to always remember is that seasons constantly change. The vibrant colors and lushness of summer will fade into the browns of fall, which become hidden under winter’s blanket. Winter’s cold white intensity will lessen and the bright greens of spring will come.

I do a lot of thinking when I am driving.

But even spring is not all growth and green grass. There are still brown patches blotching the landscape, where disease, insects or lack of soil slow growth. There are times when our own spirits feel like they have dead patches that never will grow anything again, and suddenly we notice the bare ground has cracked and a new shoot is making its way toward the sun.

If we nurture it, the shoot will grow into a lush plant of summer; if we ignore it, the shoot will wither into fall and die winter’s death.

My minister planted the idea in my head one Sunday of the dead places in our lives. As he talked about what that meant to daily life and to us as Christians, I began to understand more about my grief. It gave me a new way to relate to what I have come to view as relapses in my grieving process.

Rough patches. Places where bare rock carries no soil for growing.

It also helped me understand there is room for bare places because they usually are surrounded by growth, and we get to choose which prevails.

I have gone through many of these seasons in my grief process. Some expected and some unexpected. Just when I think I am “coming around” to something people might consider normal, something happens that causes me to shrink back into the ground.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much. It can be as simple as knowing I have to fit in dealing with the vehicle registrations, which is something Jim did every spring and becomes larger than life on my to-do list. Or it can be complex, like a serious problem with the house, one of the dogs or the health of a family member or myself. Or simply a memory that is too painful to bear at that moment.

The person I have turned to in times of uncertainty or despair is not here in the same way anymore. Jim died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, my worst winter season ever. Now my discussions with him are in my head or my heart. And the realization that I have to deal myself with whatever situation comes up if it’s going to be dealt with can send me into fall or plunge me headlong into winter.

My visits to winter have become briefer and less frequent than they were at first, and I seem to recover from them more quickly than I did. But I always know they are a possibility. Winter will come again, but so will spring.

Spring always comes.

This pink willow bush will be 10 years old this year. Dear friends gave it to us as a memorial for our beloved Brittany dog Rosie.

This pink willow bush will be 10 years old this year. Dear friends gave it to us as a memorial for our beloved Brittany dog Rosie.

Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.