For Those Grieving the Loss of a Loved One, Summers Are Not All Sunshine and Flowers

For some, missing a loved one who has died goes on year round, but certain times of the year are tougher than others. Holidays where families gather to celebrate and reconnect may mean staring at an empty chair. If grandma isn’t there with her famous pumpkin pie, that absence will be felt by those who are present. Mourning a spouse or partner who died, may mean that invitation to attend a party as a newly single will never come. And, of course, the loss of a child is one tragedy that is relived every day, but particularly on special occasions.

Rashida Sanchez, the Outreach and Engagement Manager and a Sibling Group Facilitator for COPE, a nonprofit grief and healing organization which provides support for parents, siblings, young adults and children living with loss across the grief spectrum, says that for some survivors, summer can be as tough as holidays. A licensed Social Worker and certified Fellow of Thanatology through the Association of Death Education and Counseling, Rashida recognizes the importance of creating a supportive environment that allows grievers to feel validated and accepted. She took time to answer our questions. For more information on COPE, go to the organization’s website.

Many people think of the holidays as the most difficult time for those who have lost loved ones.  But the summer can be hard, too. Can you explain why?

The summer, like other times of year, can be filled with special moments and milestones. A loved one’s absence can be felt during vacations, graduations, or at events like a barbeque. 

Does grief hit harder when a special event is on the calendar that is no longer a celebration? What can help a person manage feelings during this time?

Grievers take note of special days that remind them of their person at different times of the year. As time goes by it’s difficult when few individuals in the griever’s life remember special days, and most forget. Some grievers are ok with quietly observing special days and others feel comfortable sharing the importance of the day with close persons.  

Does it matter if the lost loved one is a child, a spouse, a sibling, or a parent? Do people grieve differently based on the lost one’s age?

Each person grieves differently according to their personality and quality of relationship to the person that died. There can be different features of grief based on age. For example, a parent whose one-year-old died may grieve more the dreams they never saw come to pass for that child v. a parent whose child died at middle age. 

What happens when those who lost the loved one grieve differently? Perhaps one parent still wants to attend a graduation even though their child won’t be there, while the other wants to stay away. What are ways to help handle such conflicted feelings?

Communication in grief is key in avoiding conflict and allowing grievers to do what is right for them in their personal journey. Whether the case of family or friends, it’s ok to use phrases like ‘I’m not ready to go to that event yet” or “Right now, it hurts too much to look at those pictures.”  Don’t assume that individuals grieve the same way or recognize what is difficult for you. Communicating verbally is helpful.

How do you approach a person who lost someone and won’t be able to celebrate a special event? Should an invitation still be extended or is it better to call and ask if the person would like to come?

Both can be done. An invitation can be extended while following up with the griever and letting them know there is no pressure to attend the event or stay for the duration. Grievers usually appreciate flexibility with attendance at social events. 

Those grieving often feel isolated. What are some helpful ways to approach a friend, perhaps just to talk? 

A simple “how are you today?” is always a good place to start.  You can ask the griever to tell you about their person or ask how you can aid them with any present issues that day. Don’t assume that talking about grief will make the griever sad.  Grief is usually on that person’s mind, especially in the earlier days of their journey. 

People often feel there’s a limit to grieving, that if time has passed, it’s time to move on. Talk about why this can be hurtful.

For grievers, putting a timeline on their grief feels like you are asking them to forget the persona of their special person. It can also make them feel abnormal if they do not fit into ‘healing’ timelines. It’s important to know that grief is a reaction to loss and there are no clear-cut timelines. Grief changes with time and each griever is an expert on how their grief has transformed. 

Grieving may still go on, but sunny days can lift spirits. What are ways people can boost their moods, even for a time?

Grievers have different needs on any given day. Be open to changed needs and checking your body and mind for what is most helpful. One day, a long walk can help the griever while another day, a long nap will boost energy and mood.  

Those grieving may neglect their health, not eating or exercising. But the summer is the perfect time to get our there and eat healthy foods and enjoy the out of doors. What are strategies to help those suffering a loss take advantage of the summer months?

Friends, family and communities play an important role here. Grievers may not be as motivated to get outside in the summer months. If you know someone who is grieving, extend an invitation for some one-on-one time in nature, exercise or getting a bite to eat. Be open to the fact that the answer may not always be yes and keep gently trying to engage. 

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (716 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.