Grieving The Summer

Grieving The Summer September 18, 2023

My heart and my head have been heavy this week. And I realized that I’m grieving the summer.

Now, it doesn’t help that I delayed until now my usual August cleanse from alcohol, coffee, and other psychoactives*, as well as refined sugars and refined oils. So I’ve put away some of my usual escapes and distractions, even comfort foods, and have to actually stand and face my feelings.

[* I mean, of course, things like kava, valerian root, and so on.]

And September has become a heavier time for me the past few years: it was September 2016 that my mother had a medical crisis which nearly killed her, and September 2017 that my father died. This time of year will always carry those memories.

And adding to that is the long shadow of my brother’s death this February from years of alcohol abuse and behavioral health issues.

More than that, I entered this summer with great plans. I was in love and had intentions to deepen our relationship, including an extended vacation with the object of my affections where I was going to ask her to move in with me. Instead the summer started with betrayal and heartbreak, including a callback to some of the issues that had affected my brother.

I’m still digesting those feelings and grieving that loss.

But even in better times, this season inherently has an element of grief about it.

The theories of Chinese Medicine divide the year into five seasons, counting the “late summer” as a separate season from summer. Summer is the season of fire, of full flourishing, and late summer is the season of earth, of stability and sympathy, of centering.

Autumn is the season of metal, associated with grieving and letting go. It is also the element of harvesting, setting boundaries, communication, the breath, and the present moment.

Image via Wikimedia Commons by “Someone35”, CC BY-SA 3.0

We enter the summer, the year’s height of activity, the season of fire, with plans made during the spring, the season of wood. But by the time the autumn comes around and we enter the season of metal, many of those plans have failed — whether they are big life plans like the one I had, or more modest ones like plans for home projects to accomplish during the long days. As the summer winds down we have to admit when our plans haven’t come to fruition.

We often think of grief as relating to the past, but I suggest that it’s really about what we imagine for the future, about the hopes and plans and dreams we’ve lost. When grief for my father arises (as it still does sometimes these years later), while it involves memories of the times we shared together the regret is about the fact that there will be no more such times.

So it’s good to recognize those plans and hopes for the height of the year that did not flower, and prune them in the season of metal. It’s an uncomfortable operation, letting go of those probability-branches that did not flourish, but a necessary one.

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