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Understanding Summer Grief
Grief Journey, Holidays

Understanding Summer Grief

It was somewhere near the end of June, years back, that I learned an important lesson about summer grief while working in the bereavement department at Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care.

Summer had arrived. It was hot and muggy outside, but all the well-known difficult holidays for grievers (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day) were behind us. When I placed my bereavement call to a grieving family member, I had not turned the page on the calendar on my desk – or the one in my brain.

This daughter answered the phone, and almost immediately, she began to cry. She shared that it was an exceptionally hard week. I asked if something recent had triggered her grief – a common experience after loss.

She said, “Oh yes! Independence Day, July 4th, will be here next week, and my family is fighting about everything. July 4th was OUR family day! Dad was a Veteran and loved the flag, the fireworks, the family picnics, and parades. He loved it all! We all gathered at Dad’s house every year, and it was always our happiest holiday. Now everyone is fighting over who gets to shoot off the fireworks, where is the best place to gather, and even if we should gather at all.”

I listened with compassion, validated her feelings, and told her I was sorry for the additional distress she was feeling. I felt a little remiss that Independence Day had not even made it on my radar just yet.

I learned and was reminded of several things related to summer grief that day.

First, grief and mourning are different for everyone and every family. In my family, we did not do a whole lot for the Fourth. My father was a Veteran and proud of his country, but he also did not like spending money.  He would say, “Why should we burn up our money? Let the neighbors do it, and we’ll watch them shoot off their fireworks.” But for this daughter and this family, July 4th is the holiday that had always brought their family together in the past. Now, this special holiday was in peril due to in-fighting and possibly in danger of not taking place at all.

Secondly, after the call, I began to contemplate things further. I realized that many summer activities can become summer grief triggers for family members who have lost that special loved one. The summer birthday or anniversary, and special vacation spots that will never be quite the same. The afternoons or evenings at the ballpark, family picnics, and fishing at the lake. Even firing up the outdoor grill for some burgers and dogs can cause family members to instantly go back in time when the whole family was there. Now comes the realization that someone is gone. A task as simple as mowing the grass or making homemade ice cream (good old vanilla was Dad’s favorite!) can cause tears to pool up in the corners of the eyes.

Lastly, I was reminded that it is important to be patient with family members. What one person may find happy and joyous, another may find burdensome or emotional. While some may want to celebrate in an even bigger fashion, others may want to scale it back a little bit this year. And when one person begins to feel big feelings, it is important that we are there to support each other, even if no words are spoken. A simple hug is sometimes all that is necessary. Many times, everyone in the family feels the same thing but just expresses it in their own way. Sometimes, having outward ways of expressing what we are feeling becomes a common language that can be shared in a family.

Here’s hoping your summer is filled with precious memories from the past and that while making new memories, you remember it’s okay to feel your feelings and learn new lessons about grief and the many emotions that can come along. We only grieve when we have loved and we love deeply.

Jeff O’Dell
Bereavement Coordinator
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care