Grief is a normal response to the experience of loss. We grieve when we anticipate the loss of someone, lose or leave a place to live, lose financial or status change, experience ambiguous losses like those of the current pandemic, and when we hear news of the destruction of our planet. While keeping in mind that grief is the normal response to loss (any kind of loss), mourning is what we do with our grief. We often think of grieving & mourning as an emotional process yet this is only one aspect of what is happening in our bodies when we experience losses and grieve.
Grief impacts our bodies in many ways. Some of us are familiar with the way grief can lead to major depression, anxiety, an inability to concentrate or sleep. However, grief puts a serious strain on our immune system and can result in heart attacks, intense stress, digestive problems, increased susceptibility to cancer and other auto-immune diseases. Grieving persons are known to have more accidents, liver cirrhosis and suicide as well.
The Science of Forest Medicine has been increasingly documenting how specific types of nature exposure supports the body’s immune system and helps to mitigate the physical and emotional impacts of grief. People are often familiar with looking to nature to help them feel better when experiencing emotional distress but few are aware of the science behind this reality or the findings of Forest Medicine. This is not only about the important role of getting exercise, but rather the way time with nature itself supports physical wellness. Becoming more aware of the physical toll of grief and the roll of active mourning in nature can help protect the body from serious illness and can offer a more robust way to do the work of mourning and attend to grief.