The Passage of the Seasons
When we were little children, we learned about the four seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Depending on where we live, these seasons coincide with changes of weather from cold to warm to cold again.
Particularly before the industrialization of food, the seasons also connect people with the Earth’s growing and fallow times, allowing for planting, growing, harvesting, and subsisting off that harvest before planting again.
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the summer solstice marks the longest. The spring and fall equinoxes mark the times when day and night are of equal length. Human beings have long noted and celebrated these key times of the year that also signal the changing of the seasons.
As we pass through the seasons, we not only experience longer or shorter days and nights, but we also become older. We mark the seasons that comprise our years. If we’re lucky enough to become old (whatever old means to you), we will have experienced many seasonal changes and the ways people in our culture identify with and celebrate them.
Right now, we’ve just passed the fall equinox, a time of change when much of the northern hemisphere harvests food. The warmth turns to cold and what was flourishing in the summer begins to die.
In the United States and many other countries, children have returned to school for another year of learning. People begin to look forward to the celebrations that teach them about their heritage. For example, in the United States, as the summer ends, there’s Labor Day and community fairs that honor the growing of plants and animals.
A major celebration of the fall equinox is the November 1 holiday known as Samhain, which is the Gaelic marking of the end of harvest and the beginning of the darker season of winter. Similarly, the Christian Allhallowtide remembers and honors the dead at this same time.
As part of that three-day celebration, the October 31 All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, is a vigil commonly celebrated after dark by children and some adults; it is imagined and played as a day of witches and ghosts who get this evening to walk the Earth.
All Saint’s Day on November 1 is the second day of Allhallowtide, honoring Christian martyrs and saints. All Soul’s Day on November 2 completes the Allhallowtide with celebrations commemorating the faithful departed.
What does all this information about the seasons and fall equinox celebrations have to do with bereavement? To be bereaved is to be torn apart because what was a relationship on this Earthly plane is changed, broken, and remade. The future relationship with our loved ones happens on a different plane—part Earthly because we remain alive on Earth—and part otherworldly because, as many believe, our loved ones continue to exist although they are no longer visible to us in our daily lives.
The fall equinox celebrations help us to recognize bereavement, or the tearing apart of relationships that happen when people we care about die. But these celebrations also help to mend bereavement by giving us opportunities to see our lives and losses as natural parts of the Earth’s cycles, reconciling us to the harsh truths of life and death.
What can we do to enter mindfully into the fall season?
Engage this changing of seasons as a time of reflection. Look back on your life, finding what you’re proud of and happy about. See what you don’t like as much and determine how to make changes.
Turn inward in preparation for the darker season. Slow down from the summer’s activities and spend time with yourself, getting to know yourself and your desires better.
Prepare for the fallow season of the year by thinking about what you want to undertake in the winter. Is it preparing for the winter holiday season of your faith and culture? Is it taking up a quieter activity like reading, stitching, wood carving, or otherwise creating something with new skills?
Look to your deceased loved ones for the guidance they offer through their highest values. How can you emulate whatever they left behind that is kind and good and courageous and decent?
Let go of old grudges and angers, choosing to forgive. Forgive those who are alive and also those who have died. Decide not to let people’s negative traits chase you away from being everything you were meant to be. Forgiveness leads to release and relief.
Move forward to love people, creatures, and the Earth more. In the fallow season, all may look darker and seem grim, but there’s much that the natural world can teach you about fidelity and love.
Burrow into the fallow season, allowing yourself to hibernate and prepare for new growth in the spring, when the spring equinox signifies revitalizing all life.
Whether your faith or cultural base celebrates Samhain or the Allhallowstide, know that the changing seasons are wonderful times to engage in remembering and honoring those people in your life who have died and the ways they lived their lives. Not all memories will be wonderful or what you’d prefer to remember, but because these darker memories help to comprise the fullness of the whole person who has died, they’re worthwhile all the same.
As the seasons pass, we have opportunities at the solstices and equinoxes, particularly the fall equinox, to remember our loved ones as the people they were. We also have opportunities to reconsider ourselves and become the people we want to be.