Earthfulness and grief

Anemoon bij boom2

In 2021 everything changed for me and my family. Our son Mees died in an accident on a foggy evening. It was, and often still is, an incomprehensible shock. From that moment we suddenly had to move on with our lives without our son. How on earth can we do that? We are currently learning by trial and error. We have experienced how important rituals, symbolism and art can be in weaving grief into your life. We noticed how walking in nature is helping us. When I started developing Earthfulness, I mainly saw nature as a source of inspiration. I thought of beautiful peak experiences in nature, on top of a mountain or with a surfboard in the sea. But now nature is also a source of consolation and acceptance. Being outside and moving is giving us space and perspective. It takes us out of our heads, making contact with our surrounding.

When I feel connected to nature, 'earthful', the grief becomes sort of more manageable. I don't think the pain of the loss is getting less, but I can handle it better. I wonder why this is the case.

First of all, I cherish the realization that nature is bigger than ourselves. That thought helps me to zoom out and realize that we are all part of a greater whole. It makes me feel insignificant in a pleasant way; small and yet secure. Mourning can sometimes be lonely and it is therefore good to feel one with nature.

The idea that nature is cyclical and infinite is also a comforting idea to me. Life and death belong together. In fact, what dies is also compost for new life. Connection to that eternity makes me feel that life goes on longer than me and my loved ones. My wife and I sometimes say to each other, when we are having a hard time with the loss of Mees, “well, we are all going to die”. And somehow this comment is very relaxing for us. And that is a nice thing, because in mourning you can also screw yourself up in endless thoughts.

Untouched nature, beautiful landscapes, but also small plants around the corner, can help to shift our attention and thus break free from those revolving thoughts. In such moments I experience a sense of freedom. Nature does not judge, makes no demands and has no expectations. In nature you are simply included in the green and you can let your emotions go as they present themselves. That cleans up and offers space for something new.

And how beautifully nature can help us to reflect on ourselves. Trees, plants, certain animals and even non-living nature can symbolize situations involving mourning. As a result, you can sometimes see and understand your own emotions better.

I can go on like this for a while. But apart from all these words, I mainly see an image in front of me, in which the globe changes in billions of years from a fire-red to a green-blue globe. A globe teeming with movements and lives that come and go, past, now and later. And I think that is the core where Earthfulness touches on processing loss. I think that Earthfulness can help to experience reality as one flowing and changing whole, of which you and your loved ones are taking part. Which allows you to better accept the continuous change of life, followed by personal happiness, and also loss.

I have searched for scientific studies in this area that further elaborate, substantiate and describe such reflections. If you search the internet with the words 'nature and mourning' you will find many stories about the healing power of nature in grief and mourning, but little scientific research. Google Scholar does show articles related to grief and nature, but these are mainly linked to climate change and loss of biodiversity. That is also important, because climate change means we will face major changes in future. Changes whereby we will undoubtedly have to let go of things that we previously took for granted. As a society, we will have to mourn more.

My wife and I recently received funding to develop a mourning path on Terschelling, the Walk of Grief. A pilgrimage of a few days, where you can let go, take time and space for your loss and find support in the dynamics of nature. To deepen the path and the route guide, we talk to islanders, artists, hiking- and also mourning experts. The Earthfulness Foundation is also participating in the project, seeking to further deepen the relationship between being connected to nature and grief. Hopefully Earthfulness can contribute to better learning to bear loss. So that, by accepting what is, there is more room for new insights, meaning and hope.