“How are you?” It’s a simple question (we think). And it usually elicits an equally simple answer.
“I’m good, you?
“Not bad, yourself?”
Many of us – most of us, even – ask this question in passing. It’s our immediate go-to. When we see a neighbor across the fence, or pass somebody in the grocery store, it’s our default question. We don’t mean anything by it. We may even be genuinely interested. But in many cases, if the answer to that question is anything other than “good, you?” we don’t know how to respond. A grieving person is oftentime absolutely clueless about how to answer that question. They just don’t know how they are. Plus, do you really want to know? Because if they tell you, it might be more than what you were asking for.
For a grieving person, This is true all the time, and especially in the months following the holiday season. January through, let’s say, March, are rough months for many people. Seasonal depression is an epidemic during these cold winter months, especially in Wyoming, where the wind constantly feels like a literal slap in the face.
The elements, the depression, the feelings of hopelessness are even worse for people who are grieving.
Grief is…complicated. It’s different for everybody. It looks different, it feels different, it presents differently.
After the holiday season ends, for some, grief is even harder to deal with.
For these people, there is Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions.
“We have a grief support group for people that started in mid-January because we know that it’s a time when it’s darker outside and there’s the let-down after the holidays,” said Todd Von Gunten, the Grief Care Coordinator with Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions. “We usually get some of our larger groups in at this time, after the holidays.”
Visiting one of those grief support groups is just one of the ways people may be able to help manage their grief. But even if they don’t join a group, talking about their grief can help ease it, even if only for a little while.
“That’s one thing you can do,” Von Gunten offered. “Surround yourself with support, whether that be group [support] or just individual counseling. We have that at any time, just in terms of being able to talk about what happened, or to continue the conversation of remembrance of your person.”
Talking is a very good way to help manage grief during the winter months and at any time throughout the year. Individuals living with grief usually have at least one person they can open up to. That person listening could make an enormous difference.
It’s not just the weather and the shorter days and the longer nights that can exacerbate grief. It’s also everyday stress.
“Any place where you can lessen the stress is a good thing,” Von Gunten stated. “If I’ve got this deadline coming up or I’ve got this bill to pay, or the mortgage – these stressors, we see coming at us. The stress of death is a 24/7 thing, where you’re just kind of going through your day and you’re going, ‘Okay, wait a second. Something’s wrong. Something’s not quite right. Oh yeah, so-and-so died.’ It’s not like you forgot. It’s just that there’s constantly a pressure that’s gaining on us and pushing in on us. That stress can’t be fixed. It gets lighter over time, but the grief is much greater. Maybe try and lessen some of those basic stressors.”
How to actually do that depends on the individual and the circumstances of their own lives. But if there’s a way to do that, it might help with the grieving process.
Another way to help with the grieving process, especially after the holidays, is to exercise.
“With New Year’s resolutions and the like of starting to go to the gym and getting buff; it’s not like that,” Von Gunten said. “It’s much more just about movement. Go for a walk if you can, if the weather allows it. Or just find some kind of way to get some exercise in. Maybe get back into a good cycle with your eating habits.”
One of the biggest hardships of living in Wyoming is dealing with the wind. In addition to the everyday cold that goes along with winter, the wind itself makes conditions even harsher. So how do grieving people combat that?
“Well, other than telling us all to move…” Von Gunten laughed. “In terms of the environment we live in, I think it’s almost as if we have to distract ourselves, or create our own focus. It’s like telling your inner voice, when it’s negative to you ‘Hey, hold on. I’m going through a very hard time right now and I’m doing the best I can and this is temporary.’ So, if the wind is up or anything like that, is there a way to focus on some art or a hobby that you like to do? These are also tips for reducing stress. Because basically, the wind and the weather stress us out. So, we have to find ways to reduce that stress. So, we tell grieving people to focus on what they like to do.”
This is good advice even when the wind isn’t blowing a hundred miles an hour. When you’re grieving, find something that you like to do, something that is comfortable, something that brings you peace.
“If there’s something normal that you used to do, try to do that,” Von Gunten suggested. “If you like to bowl, go bowling. If you like to crochet, crochet. If there’s somebody that understands grief and that can be there with you, even if just to help get you there and be with you while you do it, that’s helpful too. But focus on what you like to do. Listen to the music you like, watch the movies you like, eat the food you like, within a balance. Do things that you like to do. Most importantly, be around people that you like to hang around with.”
If you find yourself as one of those people a grieving person chooses to be around, do them a favor – don’t ask them how they’re doing.
“Grieving people do not like it when you ask ‘How are you?’ Von Gunten said. “Because either, A) they don’t know Or B) Do you really want to know? Because if I told you, you might not want to know. For those of us who are just trying to be supportive, it’s the thing you say. You say ‘How are you,’ they say ‘Fine,’ and you move on.”
Von Gunten shared a story of a support person asking a grieving person how they were. The grieving person said, ‘I hate it when people ask me that’ and the support person said, ‘I’m sorry, what would you like me to say?”
“And then, the grieving person had to step back and think about what she would like,” Von Gunten reflected. “And what the grieving person finally ended up saying was, ‘Tell me you’re glad to see me.’ Now, whenever I see a grieving person, whether it’s in a group or individually, I always say ‘It’s good to see you.’ It’s a nice thing to feel like someone is happy to see you. Then you don’t have to come up with some kind of answer to ‘How are you?’ So generally speaking, when you see a grieving person and you know they’re grieving, just tell them you’re glad to see them.”
If you’d like to know more about our free Grief Care Services, please call Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions at (307) 577-4832.