The Seasons of Grief

By: Nancy Hancock
Wednesday, September 18, 2019


James Reid Funeral Home

Bereavement Support Program

September 9, 2019

Nancy Hancock

I know that each one of you has come tonight because you are mourning the loss of a loved one. How you cope with that death and loss is very personal. Some people go inward and prefer not to talk with others about your grief. Others find solace in sharing their grief with any and all who will listen. There is no right or wrong way to grieve a death of someone whom you loved.

Many experts in the subject of grief have sought to explain grief in terms of stages. The grief process is quantified as a series of stages that most people go through. While some find that model helpful, it may also be very limiting. For one thing, people don’t always go through the various stages in order, nor do they even go through some of the prescribed stages. Then there is a model of grief being like a journey, with tasks to complete. Its limitation is that it implies that there is a destination, an ending to grief that one can arrive at.

We have found that grief never really ends, it changes over time or we learn to adjust our reactions to grief. Grief changes US, rather than grief coming to an end. [diagram 1]

There are many other models of grief. Just google “models of grief” and you will find them all.

While some people find a linear model is helpful to guide them, others like a more metaphorical model. Perhaps they take a meandering approach to their grief—they find that for them, grief is like an unfamiliar path with many obstacles for them to overcome and twists and turns in the road in the process of navigating their path of grief.

There is a different model of the grief process which has been written about by some authors, which we are going to highlight tonight, called the Seasons of Grief model.

Elaine Mansfield, a fellow griever who has a website on grief, writes, “My husband’s death left me with tears and longing, but Nature soothed me. I walked the trails of my land and felt supported during the hardest transition of my life. Like the first crocus of spring or the last Monarch butterfly in October, beauty and hope broke through grief’s darkness when I least expected them. Nature was my guide.”

Monique Cerundolo’s book called Seasons of Grief and Hope, inour library, provides reflection on grief which is based on the natural cycles of the seasons. In her book, the entry to one’s grief is likened to the season of winter.

James E. Miller, in his books and videos on the Seasons of Grief, some of which we have in our lending library, envisions the beginning of grief as the season of autumn. You can decide for yourself in which season your grief began.

While there are many different theories about the path of grief, no one more right than another, it is important to note that grief is a natural, normal, and instinctive way of healing. It has a purpose, to help us return to living and to find meaning and purpose once again. And grief finds its way into every season of life.

James Miller writes, “Grieving is as natural as nature itself: as natural as summer being cropped by autumn, autumn slipping away into winter, and winter awakening into spring, and spring blossoming into summer again”. We here in Canada are blessed with four distinct seasons of the year, which make the Seasons of Grief easy to relate to.

Since we are at the end of summer and fall is upon us, we are going to begin to explore and share the experience of grief with the season of autumn.

What signals to you the end of this summer and the beginning of fall?

  • shorter days, longer nights
  • cooler temps, more rain, sometimes brilliant sun
  • harvest of fruits and vegetables
  • changing colour of leaves—brilliant colour progressing to letting go then falling to ground
  • some stubborn leaves remain on the tree all winter: a hint of hope in new beginnings
  • plants dying

How do these signs of autumn remind you of the beginning of your grief?

  • shock of our loss: what was is gone, what was vibrant, warm, and green is
  • changing to darkness
  • we want to cling to what was, to hold onto the person who has died
  • difficulty letting go—what does the future hold for me now?

In every season, there are signs of what is to come. What signs of hope do you see in the autumn?

  • we KNOW that the leaves are going to return in the spring and dead plant will bloom again
  • beautiful colours of nature even in the midst of dying and letting go
  • planting bulbs in the fall—look forward to their blooming in spring!

What things can we do in the beginning stages of our grief, which we learn from the lessons of autumn?

  • trust in the process: grief will change and usually becomes easier
  • allow yourself to take pleasure in the beauty of autumn
  • when it gets dark early, turn on the lights, light the candles, put on the fireplace
  • plant tulip or daffodil bulbs
  • “putting the garden to bed”—what does this mean for the gardeners?

How is “putting the garden to bed” similar for us when we are entering a season of grief?

  • compost to create rich soil in the spring: ok to rest; be patient with self
  • turn over the soil: being open to changes
  • mound a bed of dead leaves around the base of delicate plants to protect roots from freezing: self-preservation
  • sometimes dying is necessary for new life to come
  • protecting and preparing your inner self for the “winter of grief”

There are rich metaphors for us to learn from the season of autumn!]


Winter is for most of us the most difficult season of the year. Someone once said, “I used to love the winter; feeling warm and safe while the snow fell outside. I also used to love those chilly walks down by the lake. Since my husband died, I have little interest in either.”

What is the season of winter like in Canada?

  • long, never-ending months
  • dark days and long nights
  • isolating: extreme weather keeps us indoors and away from people
  • bone-chilling cold

How do we Canadians get through the winter?

Either stay indoors and hibernate, or EMBRACE it!

  • cocoon
  • layers of warm clothes and blankets
  • put the fireplace on
  • comfort food
  • hot toddies or cocoa
  • see the beauty in the pure white snow
  • waiting for spring

What can we do in the winter of our grief?

  • sometimes just grin and bear it
  • “lean into” grief: allow yourself to submit to grief’s work
  • go inward, allow loneliness up to a point
  • get outside every day—either to walk or go to a mall; meet a friend for lunchor coffee
  • take this opportunity to pause, attend to the silence, be aware of feelings,
  • allow the silence to speak to you and JUST BE
  • get lots of sleep
  • cling to hope that “this too shall pass”
  • join a support group


What signals to you that Spring is on its way?

  • snowdrops and crocuses appear through the remnants of snow—first sign!
  • daylight hours are longer
  • gradually warmer
  • pale green buds on trees
  • rain
  • undependable weather

What does the “springtime” of your grief look like to you?

  • brief feelings of relief from intense grief
  • mood is lighter and brighter
  • less withdrawn from people: being outside more
  • the warmth outside feels warmer inside ourselves too
  • can see COLOURS again!

Hints of new life and hope within times of warmth will revert to sudden stabs of chill: you still feel sad at times,and be caught off-guard by a fresh stab of grief—this is normal as you move through grief

What can we do to move through grief during the season of Spring?

  • experience joy and sorrow, sometimes simultaneously
  • let your feelings evolve naturally, don’t try to force yourself to feel a certain way
  • become more involved in life—physically and emotionally
  • experiment with new activities, groups, or travel as able
  • know that you WILL survive your grief
  • make a choice to be more involved in life
  • create a living memorial to your loved one: plant a rose bush or tree
  • host or attend a gathering of family or friends—reminisce about your loved one


What do you enjoy most about the summer?

  • long days, short nights
  • being outside more
  • no more boots and coats
  • being more active
  • mature plants; ripe fruits and vegetables, flowers in full bloom

What do you enjoy the least?

  • extreme heat and humidity
  • difficulty sleeping
  • added outdoor chores
  • endless weeds
  • sunburns and bug bites

How does our experience of summer mirror our grief experience?

  • a respite from the reality of grief
  • maturing and harvesting of the inner work you have accomplished
  • feeling that you can weather the storms that will come
  • more feelings of joy and hope for the future
  • may still need protection from the sting of loss

How can we encourage the fruits of the labour of grief?

  • recognize and celebrate small victories
  • share your experience of grief with someone else who is going through it
  • welcome the changes you notice in your grief
  • when a fresh wave of grief hits, as it will, allow it to wash over you, knowing that it too will pass
  • nurture an attitude of gratitude for all of life
  • learn to accept the reality of death and to embrace the things that death cannot take away: the love you shared, the memories you hold, and the meaning of your loved one’s life. These things remain forever
  • be thankful for all you shared with your loved one

The way to begin dealing with your grief is to recognize that the seasons of the year are different now because your loved one has died. Your person made each season special to you. Admitting this can be a very difficult challenge. And yet, it is only after this admission that the seasons can be enjoyed for their new, changed reality. Some seasonal activities will be too painful to continue: the vegetable garden can be sodded over and a tree planted there. A drive to see the fall colours may have to be enjoyed with friends or on a bus. These changes will never replace what we once had, but they can be a call to new life and experiences as you are able to embrace them.

What season of your grief do you feel that you are in now?

From a Poem by William Wordsworth:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
we will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind.

Seasons pass. As you journey through your grief, may your seasons be light.


Seasons of Grief and Hope. Monique Cerundolo.
Winter Grief, Summer Grace: Returning to Life After a Loved One Dies. James E. Miller.
website resource:

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