As anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to have a pet knows, losing them is difficult. That is a big understatement.
Here’s a short description of my afternoon after losing my cat, Zoeie. I think this provides a more accurate portrayal.
We arrived home after the euthanasia and burial. I walked into the kitchen and collapsed. The screams of anguish coming out of my mouth were unrecognizable to me. I stared at an empty food dish trying to absorb the knowledge it wouldn’t be used again. I was inconsolable. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to move. And at that moment, I didn’t want to live. The light of my life was gone.
Although I was still wandering around in a state of mindful numbness, I went to work the next day. Society expects us to keep showing up. It doesn’t matter if we can’t concentrate, the tears are flowing, our heart has shattered. We must go to work and move on. This tradition of disallowing grief after pet loss only made me angry. People are uncomfortable with silence and with pain. Although we mean well, we tend to want to cheer each other up. Grief is not wrong. It is not a state we need to change. Grief is vital. It’s a state we need to exist in so we can learn how to move forward with this change in our life.
As the cloudiness began to clear, I started to feel a pull in a specific direction. I could hear my intuition telling me I needed to be near the trees. I somehow knew if I allowed myself to spend time in a forest, it would help me deal with my grief. I believe they must have some innate understanding concerning the seasons of life. Where else do the wisdom of age and the promise of new life exist so seamlessly intertwined? I am a pupil, and the woods are my teacher.
But what I learned intuitively is not anything new. In the early 1980’s there was a study done comparing two groups of patients recovering from gallbladder removal surgery. One group had rooms with windows overlooking a brick wall. The other group had rooms with windows overlooking nature. The group with windows overlooking the serene outdoor setting needed less pain medication and went home earlier than those in the other group. Hospitals have been adding gardens ever since.
There’s another practice called Shinrin-Yoku that originated in Japan. You may have heard of it as forest bathing. Forest bathing is spending time in a forest for health benefits.
Researchers conducted some investigations into forest bathing. They looked at measurable health benefits. They were able to demonstrate time in a forest can assist with reducing blood pressure and heart rate, decreasing glucose levels in diabetes patients, reducing levels of chronic pain, and supporting our immune system by increasing our natural killer cells. Additionally, forest bathing is considered to have psychological benefits. It can decrease anxiety, depression, and levels of hostility.
It is my belief a forest can also provide support to one who is grieving. When my cat died, that’s what I missed most. The comfort of a being who allows you to be who you are in whatever emotional state you are in without any explanation. I lost my best comforter and didn’t know where to go for the comfort I desperately needed. The plants kindly and gently offered their support. Nature doesn’t judge us, and it doesn’t try to brighten our outlook. The trees aren’t uncomfortable with my silence or my tears. They are there standing strong and reminding me as they bend with the wind that I should lean into my grief.
I’m learning to adjust, but the grief isn’t over. While many are to heading parties and barbecues, I’ll be finding my oasis. The trees are calling me. These are my only definite plans for the long Memorial Day weekend. I’ll be under a tree, absorbing and learning. The trees are offering their comfort. I’m so grateful for their support.
Ulrich, RS. (1984, April, 27) Sciencemag.org. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/224/4647/420
Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 851. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080851