"HERBS FOR GRIEF"
As a child, I learned how to make a construction paper cone with handles; fill it with hand-picked flowers; then hang it on the door of the oldest woman (crone) I knew on May Day. Like a fairy, I would tiptoe to her door and affix my honorarium. Grandmother was the first recipient of my floral tribute. Thereafter, I added Mother to my list of recipients. Even as an adult, I continued to make this child-like gift until the day each of them joined the spirit world. May Day continues to stir a place in my mind and heart- though now, I am the crone! J Honoring life is a gift each of us cherishes deep in our heart- of- hearts. May is filled with days that we honor life.
May Day we honor Earth Mother and regeneration of life.
Mother’s Day is significant for us as we honor our physical Mothers who have shared this life and remember those who have passed on.
Memorial Day is our time to honor and remember veterans.
We honor both life and death in May.
We are filled with both joy and sorrow this month.
We celebrate joy and privatize grief.
“Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions.” It is a stress reaction with deep psychological changes… Stress hormones like cortisol are released; sleep patterns are disrupted; even the immune system can become weakened. Physical manifestations of grief may include loss of appetite, palpitations, breathlessness, weakness, tension, and restlessness. Grief is a state of yearning; it has no time value. You may notice that you experience recurrent floods of distress lasting from 20 minutes to an hour- with or without physical symptoms of rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, sweating and “butterflies.”
C.S Lewis said, “Grief feels like fear.” Grief can come in waves; welling up and dominating emotions; subsiding; and recurring. Again…Grief has no time value. There is no “normal.” Grief wraps your heart like gossamer. “Sorrow… turns out to be not a state, but a process- It needs not a map, but a history.” C.S. Lewis
I recently lost my sister Reny. She was my little sister; my childhood pal. She contracted diabetes in her thirties and succumbed to the ravages of heart and kidney disease that followed. As a nurse, I realize now that I began to mourn her fifteen years ago when her body began to deteriorate. This doesn’t make losing her now any easier for me.
Grief takes a different path for each of us and is not only caused by loss of a loved one but could be caused by loss of employment; loss of a body part; or relocation and loss of close friends.
Grieving takes time as does healing. We all know of the 5 steps of grieving- what we may not realize is that the five steps are not like a stairwell with a bottom and a top. Grief steps are a compendium with healing along the way. You may or may not reach the top. Robin Rose Bennett: “I counsel people who have been trying to let go and yet feel totally stuck, that the task is not to let go but to allow their own heart to expand in order to hold the pain and not be engulfed by it—to metaphorically grow the heart so that the pain can be there, held in their love, which is so much greater than they can imagine.”
Our hearts seat our “shen”- our spirit. Grief tugs at the tender strings of our shen depleting us of energy and life’s zest. Herbs like Hawthorn and Linden, Rose and Lavender, Mimosa and Lemon Balm open the heart and soothe the nerves.
As we mentioned, “Grief’sTimetable” may be resistant to staging. What works for me may not be effective for you. Shocking upset may be ameliorated by using herbs that act on the nervous system to calm and soothe the nerves. We may feel that we want to deaden the pain. Heart Pain hurts; it makes you feel sick. It makes you afraid. There are ways to obviate severe reactions as you move through your day. David Winston recommends a blend of Lemon Balm; Rose petals; and Hawthorn flower, berry and leaf in tincture. Robin Rose Bennett recommends a formula containing dried Linden Blossoms, dried Violet leaves, and dried Hawthorn berries, flowers or leaves in tea form.
The trouble with grieving is that we cannot plan how we will feel at one moment or in a situation. We may feel shock at first… or at times when we think of our loss. As days go by, we may feel listless, purposeless, or isolated. Grief can last a lifetime… an eternity.
It is important to remember that even though grief is unpredictable, we do know that our immune system becomes challenged if grief is unrelenting. Here is how that happens:
The three stages of adaption are: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. When we are stressed, our bodies react by producing fight-or-flight hormones to mobilize vigor- the Alarm Stage of adaptation. We may feel this reaction after a loved one is in an accident or has a catastrophic physical occurrence and succumbs.
This is the right time to consider Aromatherapy and Nervines. Aromatherapy can not ease the pain of loss, but can help move us through and uplift us as we experience change. Essential oils such as Sudanese black rose, Neroli, Rose otto, Lemon Balm, Frankincense, Rose Maroc, and Geranium are helpful dotted onto a tissue to sniff; dropped into a steaming pot or dribbled in the back of your shower. Nervines help us by soothing and strengthening nerves made raw by loss. Nervines are different from prescription sedatives in that they tone and support the nerves without causing changes in mentition or consciousness. Nervines augment Adaptogens and support revitalization of the adaptogenic response. Helpful Nervines are Milky Oat Seed, Chamomile, Lemon balm, Linden flower, St. John’s wort, Mimosa, Passionflower, Blue vervain, Hawthorn, Motherwort, and Lavender. “You could go to your kitchen cupboard and make a cup of thyme or basil tea and benefit immediately and tangibly from the physical, mental and emotional tension-relieving qualities of these.” [Robin Rose Bennett]
Adaptogens like Rhodiola (with its rose-like fragrance); Ashwagandha, Schisandra, American Ginseng, Astragalus, Hawthorn, Linden flower, Rosemary, and Holy Basil enhance the immune system and protect the heart.
Most of the time our bodies can handle initial stress; however, prolonged vigilance [at the bedside] continues to drain us and depletes us of original defense hormones. When this happens we move into the Resistance Stage. Resistance is a continued state of arousal. Most of us can handle this stage too- because our own adaptogenic response mollifies stress. Taking Adaptogens during this time can fortify our adaptogenic response. However, continued stress – for instance a drawn-out convalescence or an eventual demise- uses up our adaptive potential and robs us of coping mechanisms we normally have. When this happens, our bodies move to the Exhaustion Stage and we lose the ability to adjust. We have over-utilized our internal coping mechanisms. We may experience low immunity which can lead to our own symptoms of dis-ease. Adaptogenic herbs are essential here and may be necessary for several months to a year to rebuild depleted resistance.
I am a clinician. Even so, I need someone to guide me to take good care of myself as I grieve. We cannot be our own caretakers. Yes, grief is a private thing. However, it is ok to allow someone into our privacy to help us at this special time. Grief is so important…it can distort our days. It’s ok to name it for what it is. It’s ok to say “I’m grieving” – and be open to the process. We need to nurture ourselves… to give our bodies and our spirits time to experience the ebb and flow of our emotions and our loss.