RESILIENCE: 3 Lessons from Nature – Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Celebrating our Earth

Earth Day (April 22), which has turned into a month-long celebration, is a time for celebrating the source of our bounty. The trees absorb carbon dioxide for growth, and they release oxygen that we breathe. Some plants provide beauty, some provide nutrition, some provide herbs, and others more uses. The internal resources from our planet also provide for our way of life. Some indigenous cultures revere mother earth, respecting all aspects of life. They believe there are many lessons to be learned by observing and caring for the earth — not just once a year, but every day.


Lesson 1: All things change

We are born, we live for a time, and we die. Yet we’re often caught by surprise when death stops at our door, taking a loved one. In between birth and death, we are in a constant state of change. Our bodies grow and age, our minds develop knowledge and reasoning, and our spirits gain wisdom. We are so busy at this growing that we neglect the fact that our LIFE TIMELINE is limited. I have often heard, “If I had known I only had a short time, I would have done things differently.”


The fact is: we do not know how much time we have with our loved ones Life Timelines. Nor do we know how much time we have on our own Life Timelines. Just like the flowers in the spring bloom for a short time and die, we enjoy and appreciate their beauty.


Action: Make the most of the time you have. Wake up in the morning and live this unique day as if it were your last with joy, wonder, gratitude, and love. Walk out on your porch, front step, or into the garden. Take a deep breath and enjoy. Don’t wait. Start now!


An herb garden in my back yard

Lesson 2: Plants thrive in groups

Many of us are pulled to the earth to dig, plant, and nurture flowers, food, and trees to grow. It makes us feel connected, content, and calm as it focuses our mind away from our worries and cares. Others contract with experts to create their gardens and derive much pleasure from the results. Each plant starts out as a seed, planted in the darkness, germinating and striving to emerge from its home in the earth to burst forth to bloom or bear fruit.


During grief from loss, we, too, are in a dark place, trying to regroup and make some meaning of a new life. Just like the plants need nurturing, so do those who are grieving. We get our nurturing from others. That nurturing helps us heal as well as an activity such as gardening.


Action: Plant a few flowers of your choice in your garden or in a pot you can see and tend to. Don’t forget to talk to them. If you are not a gardener, visit your neighbor’s garden or walk around a store that sells garden plants. Read the labels that identify the care needs of the plants. Think about what your care needs may be for you to heal. Plants don’t live in isolation and neither should you. Ask for help and comfort when you have needs so you can heal and bloom again.


Lesson 3: Nature heals

Each person has a preference to what nature setting is meaningful, calming, and healing. For me, I felt the best when I was by the ocean, walking in the sand and water. The scent of the sea and salt was in every breath I took. The warmth of the sun was so comforting.

Engaging all the senses helps to refocus attention on the self and give a pause to the grief, fatigue, and often depression. I felt close to my husband by the ocean. Others may prefer the forests, parks, or mountains. Much research has been done on the healing power of nature.


Action: Pick a nature setting you love and make a plan to spend some time there. You may take a friend or go alone. Some have found it helpful to take a pad and pencil to write their thoughts. Others prefer to just enjoy the experience. It is sometimes hard to be still in nature when your mind is so full of grief. Try sitting quietly or walking slowly as you focus on breathing in and out. If your mind gets busy, just return your focus to your breathing.


NOTE: In the beginning of healing your grief, the backyard may be the place to start as crying may be an issue you want to keep to yourself. You can venture out when you are ready.


Photos courtesy of Cheryl Barrett




Cheryl A. Barrett, RN, MSN, NC-BC, is a retired nurse with 30-plus years in a variety of settings: clinical bedside in ICU, staff educator, academic instructor both didactic and clinical, supervisor, home care education, editorial director of a nursing magazine and is a board certified integrative nurse coach.





In 2018 she published Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation, inspired by the death of her husband. She won the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year, 2018 in the category of Palliative Care and Hospice for her book. She is currently creating a companion workbook for those experiencing grief and loss.




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One Comments

  • Rosemary Brewer 04 / 05 / 2021 Reply

    Thank you for sharing another one of your awesome articles.

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