12 Ideas for the Worst Hours of the Day

Edward Hopper's "Automat"

Edward Hopper’s “Automat”

It’s the worst part of the day.

Call them the dreary hours, the bummer time, the curse of the slow clock, or the sounds of silence.

It’s when work is over, even if you are no longer working.

If still working and back home at the usual time (whenever commuting and the after-work errands are accomplished), it was once the slice of the day you happily anticipated. You removed the wrinkled work clothes, sipped lemonade or wine, played with the kids or dog or both, ate dinner, watched television, and shared about this and that.

If retired, habit often means dinner continues at the same time. Even in retirement, the schedule is busy: hobbies, chores, watching the grandkids, and other activities clutter the calendar. By evening, there’s much to discuss about the day’s events. And—bonus—while the television murmurs in the background, you scheme about an upcoming cruise, mission project, or cross-country trip.

But now, your wife has died.

But now, your husband has died.

But now, in what was once the best part of the day—those sweet hours after the garage door closed and before tucking into bed for the night—you have a daily reminder of misery.

These are the dreary hours.

In the years I’ve facilitated support groups for those grieving a spouse’s death, most share a common ground: the stretch of time from late afternoon until they try (and may fail) to sleep. It doesn’t matter if the one grieving has kids in school or has been an empty nester for years. Rich or poor doesn’t matter. Having a decades-long history of bickering or never arguing in fifty years of marriage doesn’t matter. Nearly everyone in the groups quietly or loudly fret about the dreary hours.

Please, they plead, what can be done to make that time more bearable? Here are a dozen ideas gleaned from listening to folks . . .

  1. Join an exercise club* and go in the early evening. Get tired.
  2. Choose favorite or interesting non-profits to interview about their needs and determine if volunteering with them fits your schedule and interests. Ask if there are opportunities during the part of the day you most want to stay active. (It won’t be early evening for everyone.)
  3. Do your adult children or siblings or best friends live elsewhere? Make a regular phone date for checking in. Make “down the road” plans to visit. They come to you, or you go to them.
  4. Don’t forget how easy texting is.
  5. Learn a new hobby . . . that one you’ve always said you’ll try next year.
  6. Join a group you’ve heard about (writing, biking*, card-playing, pickleball*, reading group at a library).
  7. Study the Meet-Up web site to see what’s interesting. Don’t just look for what you know, find opportunities that are intriguing.
  8. Join Audubon, REI, Nature Conservancy (or your local outdoor group) for hikes*.
  9. Stroll* and explore a new neighborhood in your town with a friend several times a month.
  10. Record favorite shows to watch during the “dreary hours.”
  11. Schedule one boring task to accomplish, set a timer, and work on it until the time goes off.
  12. Say, “Yes” to an active activity* you’d usually say, “No” to that a friend suggested or you’ve read about. In other words, force yourself to be spontaneous . . . and moving.

(*Yes, many suggestions include a version of “exercise.” Don’t over-exert, but getting the body moving is a also good thing for the mind, heart, and soul.)

It is easy to concoct lists for someone else. If you scan 5 or 50 suggestions and find one—only one—that tickles your fancy, doesn’t that represent success for the list maker and list searcher? Just discovering one new option is a good thing! Well . . . at least it’s “okay.”

I hope my list, or other lists**, provide inspiration to try something new. But even the best lists, with fresh ideas and activities, will probably never satisfy your deepest needs.

One of the things I often say with grief support groups is that no one ever volunteers to grieve. You can’t prepare for it. You can’t imagine what it’s like until grief’s exhausting tide has swept you into the deepest part of the “ocean of tears” and it takes all your efforts to stay afloat.

Time will not heal the hurt. Instead, it is always, always, always what you do with the time. So search out lists that suggest new or different ideas. Make your own lists of things you want to do, should do, or have always thought about doing. Some activities may represent stuff you couldn’t try as long as your loved one was alive . . . which can create guilt or a guilty pleasure or both. Nearly everything we try after a beloved has died brings a mix of feelings, a clash of emotions.

Nevertheless . . . I gently nudge you to confront the dreary hours head on.

It will be a difficult. It will be some of the hardest work you’ve ever done and never wanted to do.

However, true healing may only begin with honesty about the hurt and at least a smidgen of hope about the next day. Please . . . try to tend your wounds, for the sake of your precious memories and for a future you never volunteered for.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

** You may want to check out the online bookstore at the Center for Loss and Transition. Among the many books there are these two: Healing a Spouse’s Grieving Heart – 100 Practical Ideas & Healing the Adult Child’s Grieving Heart – 100 Practical Ideas. In those 100 ideas, many a few might be interesting to you . . .

(Image of Edward Hopper’s “Automat” from here.)

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