Although many grief experts outline the various stages of grief, these are only guidelines. People have very different experiences when it comes to grief and it doesn’t always look like the “textbook” definition. There is no set of emotions in a particular order that is considered acceptable. There is no right or wrong way to grieve!
People experience a plethora of emotions when grieving that are not always expected and that’s okay. During times of grieving it’s normal to experience a process of exploring the unique meaning of the individual’s loss and what it means to them.
A common question that arises is, “who am I now without this person and who am I going to be?” This process of making meaning out of loss can look like questioning or exploring the nitty-gritty details of the loss. It can also involve asking what this loss says about them as a person, the entire state of the world, or even God.
Eventually, people can begin to rebuild their lives in a way that makes sense to them, even when faced with great loss.
Loss is a tricky subject as there’s no one ‘recipe’ or protocol that will answer all questions or guarantee a smooth grieving process. There are some interesting studies on how the body, mind, and brain adapt to grief and how the individual’s biomarkers change depending on how well someone adapts to loss. So, exploring these resources and tips can actually shorten or lengthen one’s own life expectancy!
- Express your grief - If you want to cry, cry. If you want to feel anger, allow yourself to do so. Express your grief and learn about it. Acknowledging your feelings will help you move forward. Allow yourself to just be, listen and feel anything that’s coming up for you.
- Surround yourself with supportive people - Find friends or family members who accept your grief. Many people feel as if they must hide their sadness around others, and that can disrupt the healing process. This can lead to isolation and increased sadness. Instead, surround yourself with people who are comfortable with your grieving process, and allow for you to fully express yourself when needed.
- Be gentle with yourself - There is no specific timeframe in place for someone to accept their loss and move on from grieving. Don’t judge yourself harshly for ‘not doing better’ or ‘taking too long’ along the way. Trust the timing of your process.
- Pace yourself - Grieving can be exhausting. Allow yourself extra time to rest and process all that is happening. Don’t overbook your schedule or make too many commitments.
- Allow yourself to have fun - Allow yourself the opportunity to do things you love. Whether it is a hobby, spending time with a friend who always makes you laugh, being spontaneous and setting off on an adventure; incorporate joy into your life, even if it is just a little at a time.
- Make a list of activities each day - It is common to experience forgetfulness when grieving. Making a list of goals or activities that need to be done will help you stay on track. Keep the list short with only important activities.
- Journal - A journal is a tool that allows you to safely express yourself. Let all of your feelings flood the paper, whether it is sadness, anger, disappointment, or regret. Sometimes, writing is the best conduit to communicating what can be easily communicated vocally. Finding a safe and personal way to do so will help in processing such feelings. An interesting activity many have found helpful is writing a letter to a person you lost with your dominant hand. Then, write a letter back to you from them with your non-dominant hand.
- Breathe - Breathing exercises are one of the most helpful things you can do when you are grieving or stressed. It will deepen your connection to your body and help you bring conscious awareness to the present moment. Emotional and physical tension in your body will release, and your mind can take a break from worrying about the past or future, which is often a side effect of grief. Find a quiet space where you can practice, and practice daily.
- Exercise and move your body - Emotions often get stuck in the body and the more we move, the more we allow the body to release any stuck pain and emotion. Also, exercise helps boost dopamine and serotonin, the “feel-good” hormones that can improve your mood. It’s also particularly helpful for people dealing with anxiety and panic attacks.
Death and grief are not something we discuss regularly until a loss happens to us. We’re rarely prepared for the journey that proceeds. Often, it takes many resources, therapy, support, and mental, emotional, and physical processing to move through it in a healthy way. Below we’ve put together a list of some resources and herbal allies, in collaboration with our dear friend, AHG Registered Herbalist, and Founder of Pharmakon Supernatural, Rachelle Robinett, to support during loss and grief.
- Ashwagandha. Best known for its cortisol-lowering benefits, this calming adaptogen can help during times of high stress and grief. It’s well known for its ability to diminish fatigue, normalize our stress response, promote mental clarity, help with stress-induced depression, and greatly improve sleep quality.
- Mucuna Pruriens. Known as the “dopamine bean”, this plant ally acts as dopamine support and has shown promising effects in studies on various forms of depression.
- Kratom. According to FDA research, kratom is an agonist that binds to the mu-opioid receptors. This is the same part of the brain that is activated when you take opioids, like prescription painkillers or heroin. It’s thought that the active chemicals, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine may help control pain by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors and, in turn, reducing pain perception. While kratom is traditionally used for stress relief, pain relief, and as a mood and energy booster, in recent years, kratom has gained popularity as an alternative to opioid pain medications like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone). In many cases, kratom is used as an alternative to manage chronic pain and used as an herbal approach to alleviating symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal, such as mood disturbance. *Although not currently for sale as a powder on our site, we have a special edition extract in-house. Feel free to reach out directly so we can assist with the purchase.
Caution: Depending on dosage and use, it may cause dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal. Do not take it with other pain killers as it might cause nausea and other side effects. Risks appear to be higher when it's taken in concentrated extracts, in combination with other psychoactive substances, drugs, or adulterants, or when it's taken by people with alcohol use disorders, a history of heroin use, or certain health conditions.
- Nervines, galore.
- Kava Kava is a relaxing, anxiety-soothing herb with great pain-relieving effects, as well.
- Passionflower. This beautiful mandala-like flower is a gentle anti-anxiety, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and mild sedative herb. One compound, found within Passionflower (quercetin) is exceptionally effective ability in ridding the body from damaging free radicals while inhibiting various enzymes that cause inflammation. This particular compound has also been found to relax the nervous system.
- Mulungu. It’s not as common in the Western world, but it is certainly a beloved tree within South American indigenous medicine. Traditional folk has used Mulungu for hundreds of years for mental disorders (depression, anxiety, stress, panic, trauma, etc.), liver disorders, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations. Scientific studies now demonstrate all of the indigenous uses were on point, demonstrating significant pain-relieving anti-inflammatory actions. Our Dolores Pain Management Tonic, with mulungu and other pain-relieving herbs like wildcrafted Pedicularis and Mitragynia has many nervines that can support with grief.
- Albizia. Known as the tree of happiness, both the bark and the flowers have been traditionally used for hundreds of years as a mood elevator and inducer of calm. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to anchor the spirit of those who struggle with worry, anxiety, confusion, and depression. The flowers have been used as a treatment for insomnia, amnesia, and melancholy. Albizia is thought to enhance all aspects of neurotransmitter secretion and regulation, making it a terrific anti-depressant and anti-anxiety herb with no known side effects.
- Skullcap. A wonderful nervine that is especially useful for physical restlessness, twitches, jumps, or irritability in the body caused by tension. It is used in European eclectic medicine, Chinese-Daoist Medicine, and by Native Americans to soothe the nerves help with body pain recovery, and historically to treat hysteria, insomnia, anxiety, epilepsy, and more.
- Milky Oat Tops are a deeply nourishing food that brings about deep restoration to the nervous system. Milky oat remedies have been crafted for over 150 years by eclectic physicians as an excellent tonic remedy that restores nervous system health, relieves emotional instability, reduces the symptoms of drug withdrawal, helping support peace and tranquility to over-stressed and chronically upset people. Oat is a staple in formulas for grief.
- Lemon Balm. A delightful tea with an exquisite smell. This herb is an excellent nervine known to uplift depressive moods. An easy and gentle plant to grow in the garden is an excellent companion to more potent hypnotics. Lemon balm is even known to be an immune protector, like many of the herbs listed here.
FOR GRIEF + THE HEART
The following list of resources comes from this live post on Rachelle's website, which chronicles what she read, watched, and relied on in the months and year following her experience with death. It continues to be updated as her death awareness studies continue. This list is not intended to be comprehensive or directive, but rather a reference and point of entry as helpful
- On Death & Dying, What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families
- Death: The Final Stage of Growth
- On Grief & Grieving
- The Wheel of Life A Memoir of Living and Dying
- The Tibetan Book of The Dead translations & interpretations:
- The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying
- Robert Thurman on the book (audio)
- Meditations on Living, Dying, and Loss, The Essential Tibetan Book of the Dead
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography
- The Denial of Death: “Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.” Meta-psychoanalytical. Redundant for me but interesting if you’re newer to, or want to go deep on psychoanalysis. Perhaps best outside of the acute stages of loss. Pulitzer Prize winner and referenced widely as seminal.
- I Am That: Not death specific but very applicable. A sort of bible for the concepts of impermanence, non-duality, meditation as life, self-realization. I will return to this for guidance in years to come.
- Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective
- From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
- Levels of Life, “An NPR Best Book of the Year. In this elegant triptych of history, fiction, and memoir, Julian Barnes has written about ballooning and photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and tearing them apart; and enduring after the incomprehensible loss of a loved one. Powerfully rendered, exquisitely crafted in Barnes’s erudite style, this searing work confirms the author as an unparalleled magus of the heart.”
- Languages of Loss, A psychotherapist's journey through grief
- No Death, No Fear, “In No Death, No Fear, the acclaimed teacher, and poet examines our concepts of death, fear, and the very nature of existence. Through Zen parables, guided meditations, and personal stories, he explodes traditional myths of how we live and die. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us a way to live a life unfettered by fear.”
When Things Fall Apart, “Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy.”
Rumi, “On the day I die”
- Fall Up is a healing space that supports people navigating the spectrum of grief with 1:1 guidance, mentorship, community circles, and healing ceremonies.
- Narrative Intelligence
- Morbid Anatomy “Surveying the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture.”
- Leaves With You: Rituals and biodegradable coffins for grief and death
- An Online Generation Redefines Mourning
- Let's Talk About Loss: Meetups for 18-35-year-olds who have been bereaved
- Reimagine: Exploring death + celebrating life | “We host live and virtual events bringing communities together for an exploration of death and celebration of life through creativity and conversation.”
- A Course in Dying by Claudia Crobatia
- The Confetti Project | Grief as a Celebration
- My guide, for whom I am eternally grateful, and with whom I’m still working with on a weekly basis: Laura Cassidy Sullivan.
Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner) (Ted Talk)
OnBeing | Death & Dying (podcast)
Jon Hopkins, Quiet (playlist)
Stuff You Should Know: How Grief Works (podcast)
Grief, The Liturgists (podcast)
Shaping Grief With Language, OnBeing (podcast)
The Adventures of Memento Mori (podcast)
Good Grief: Guru Singh On Death & Loss (Rich Roll podcast)
This Article Was Written in Collaboration with
Rachelle Robinett, RH (AHG)
Rachelle is an herbalist, educator, and life-long naturalist who blends holistic herbalism experience with science to create life changing health for people every day. She is also the director of operations at Supernatural as well as a professional consultant for companies both in the wellness and food industries.