Why Daylight Savings Time (Still) Gives Me (More) Grief

I don’t know anyone who likes the twice a year body-clock havoc wrought by Daylight Savings Time. I never did — even before my husband’s death.

I thought it would get easier with time, but here I am, not long before the “official” hour to reset my clocks, writing about how much this spring’s time change “still” hurts. This will be my eighth widowed shifting of the digits. I thought I’d be used to it “by now.”

Changing my clocks hurts for two main reasons. The first is as personal to me as my grief is (and let me be clear — all grief is personal). The second applies to bereavement in general.

My husband was a stickler for timepiece accuracy. I am not. He liked having the seconds on the clock line up with “official” time. I prefer clocks set at least three minutes early to nudge myself toward being on time. Our first Daylight Savings Time weekend as newlyweds brought confusion — and comedy — as we both set and reset our few shared timepieces. As the number of clocks in our household grew over the next 24 years, so did our semi-annual scramble to set them according to his time or mine. It became a twice-yearly game (except when we lived in sensible, non-DST Arizona), and it was a fun prelude to the discomfort of adjusting our sleep-wake cycles.

The first time I changed our clocks by myself after he died felt wrong. It felt like cheating on our game. I couldn’t bring myself to change them all. How I wanted to walk into each room and find that room’s clock set to exactly the right time!

It felt just as improper the following spring — and the fall after, and the spring and fall after that. It felt equally wrong last spring and fall. It still feels awful.

Tonight’s anticipation of Daylight Savings Time brings me to the second, more general reason why DST and Standard Time changes make “the grief monster” more fierce.

When grief is new, every event that marks the passage of time — including the semi-annual time change — lands like a portcullis between life Before and life After the loved one’s death. Each event is a mile marker documenting the ever-increasing distance separating one soul from another.

With time markers such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries of all sorts, there are usually emotional histories and future plans connecting them. They each carry a particular pain of their own. But the regular shift from Standard to Daylight Savings Time happens year after year after year … just because legislators decided it should.

For those less new to their grief, it’s true that time will help it become less raw, but don’t try to tell them that unless they ask. Instead, listen to them. “In time” their grief will become seasoned. “With time” their grief will soften. “Over time” their grief can heal–but only in the way a deep, lacerating cut can heal — with a big, permanent scar. “Recovering” from bereavement doesn’t mean the bereaved will ever be able to turn back time to life Before, but it does mean they’ll someday be able to “spring forward.”

“Springing” may be a bit much. Reassure your mourning friends they’ll eventually move forward when they’re ready. Meanwhile, even “inching forward” shows progress.

A Rude Awakening by Dog and Grief

This week I had a rude awakening– a literal rude awakening — because of  widowhood’s impact on one area of my life.

The dog whined — loudly — at 4:10 a.m. (I’d finally slipped into sleep after 12:30.) I wasn’t thrilled.

I told her it wasn’t time to get up. “Go back to bed,” I grumbled. Unfortunately, she ignored the cushy doggy bed beside mine.

My doggy woke me at 4:10 a.m., but she had a good reason.

My doggy woke me at 4:10 a.m., but she had a good reason.

I screamed when 50 pounds of unwashed mutt landed on the bed above my pillow — startling her back onto the ground and me into no-more-sleep mode.

“Maybe she really, really needs to go out,” I thought. On the way to the back door she wove between my legs — more like a cat than a dog — nearly tripping me several times.

Halfway there she blocked me from going farther. (Again, I was not thrilled.) Within seconds, the smoke alarm directly over my head chirped its shrill low battery alert, sending her into more frenzied circles around my legs.

“O-oh. That’s why you got me up. Okay, girl. I get it now.”

I let her outside to do what she needed to do, climbed a chair, and pulled down the chirping device and its housemates. Then I retrieved the batteries I’d  purchased a couple of months earlier just for these alarms.

A few minutes later the dog was back inside and the smoke alarms all had fresh batteries.

(Stay with me. There really is a point to how this relates to grief, grieving, and recovery!)

My literal “rude awakening” happened at 4:10 a.m., but the greater, figurative “rude awakening” followed as I reflected on what brought me to the top of the chair in the wee hours. In one sense I “lost” my husband twice — first to the mental illness that took his mind and then to the … whatever-it-was … that took his life.

Before he became ill, I taught emergency preparedness seminars  (emphasizing  hurricane readiness) at civic and private functions throughout our area. The woman who always, always, always urged participants to change their smoke alarm batteries when they changed their clocks for Daylight Savings Time forgot. (*See below.)

That I remembered to buy 9-volt batteries shows I’m “moving forward” again.

That I forgot to install them (after preaching preparedness for years!) shows how slow the grief recovery process can be.

That my dog reminded me of the task shows she is priceless, no matter how annoying at that hour.

(*Use and replace the foods and medicines in your emergency kit twice a year, too.)