Conversations in Grief Blog: "When They Don't Return in the Fall"

Rainbow Community Care Team
October 31, 2022 / 5 mins read

“When They Don’t Return in the Fall”

By Hilary Furnish


Autumn is a season of delight for many. Hayrides, pumpkin carving, and hot apple cider fill the days with joy. But autumn marks another important event and that is the beginning of deer hunting season. I did not grow up in a hunting household (unless shopping for deals counts), but I spent most of my life living in communities where hunting season is a big deal. Towns and retail stores recognize it through special events and sales. In some places, on the first day of hunting season, school is closed so children may join their family members in the woods. Driving the countryside, the sight of men walking through fields with rifles in blaze orange is a clear sign of what these days are all about. Being together, pursuing their quarry, and making memories.

There is a “Hunting Prayer” written by S. Elliott that reads:
“We pray our sights be straight and our aim be true. We pray for no pain to the game we pursue. We thank you, Lord, for this land. We thank you for the sights from our stands. We pray for safety, one and all. We pray we may return next fall.”

Hunting season is something many look forward to each year but can be a time of grief when your hunting party has been affected by loss. In supporting the bereaved, I often hear, “hunting season will be hard this year without them.” We speak of a year of firsts often in grief support and many hunters are feeling that now. They remember the first time their loved one took them into the woods and now their last time. Hunting season is marked by grief because their loved one was not able, as the prayer reads, to “return in the fall.”

How then do we make space for grief during hunting season? First, by acknowledging that it will be more difficult without your loved one. In grief, part of the grieving process is recognizing we won’t make new memories with our person. This is a hard realization, and taking time to say, “Dad would have loved this,” or other acknowledgments along the way can be helpful. Sharing memories of previous years' hunts with your hunting party can also make space for the grief you may feel. Intentionally carrying one of your loved one’s belongings with you on the hunt may help you feel connected to them. This can be a small object to place in your pocket or even wearing a piece of clothing. Engaging in a ritual like a toast to those who did not return for this year’s hunt, leaving a marker in a place that was important to them, or passing on hunting gear to another in memory of your person can also be supportive.

Grief goes with us through every season after loss and being intentional in acknowledging its presence can make bearing the unbearable a little easier. Take some time to think about how to make this hunting season not only safe and memorable but one that makes room to remember the members of your hunting party that are no longer with you. In doing so, you honor their impact on your life and the times you shared during each autumn hunt.