We’ve entered 2020. Once again I feel acute grief as a new year starts and I face yet another 12 months without my child.
Add to that, my son Alex was murdered on 30th December, so it’s always tough as we move into January.
But these days, it’s not only his death that drags me down. There’s another stressor, another loss, and this one is utterly unrelated to my personal grief.
It comes from environmentally induced distress.
Some call it solastalgia, and others ecological grief.
Grief Can’t Have It All
It weighs heavily on my already broken heart and often I feel overwhelmed and enraged by it all: my loss, the state of the world, injustice, Nature violated.
This added emotional onslaught makes my daily struggle harder. News of environmental destruction is everywhere and it seeps into my soul.
A quick glance at my Facebook, IG, or Twitter feed and I’m faced with bleached corals, plastic-filled seas and forest fires.
Some days I’m no longer sure what it is I’m grieving. Such is my despair.
Is it my 23-year-old son, or is it also the state of our Earth? Am I mourning a personal loss or does my grief now extend to the loss of our planet’s future?
It’s all mixed up in my heart. At times my grief is so great I lose faith — faith in all I believe in, our capacity for compassion, and our rejection of what it means to be good.
My soul aches when I see the orangutans and bushfires, as it does when I look at photos of my boy and remember his smile. It’s as if my son’s absence and the way he died heightens my sense of shock at the violence wrought on the Earth.
I couldn’t save him and now I’m forced to stand by as Nature dies too?
My grief is exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness at what’s happening in the world.
When I think of my loss, I see parallels to what’s happening around me.
Integrating my grief into a new life seems as daunting as tackling the global-scale environmental challenges we face as humans.
Where do I start to build a new life post-loss?
Where do we start in solving this ecological mess?
Some days, hiding under the covers seems the only option.
What’s the point in learning to live with my grief if our planet is dying? It’s such a gargantuan effort, so why try if it’s all for nothing?
The sense of helplessness, of vulnerability, of impotence at the destruction of ecosystems at times make me feel numb.
I know I’m not alone in wanting to switch off from the world’s problems and additional sorrow. Like me, others have also lost faith.
We’re seeking answers to questions that can’t even be formulated. We are living in an age of despair, a time of extraordinary ecological loss, an epoch described as the Anthropocene.
We see the natural world being pushed to its limits, past its ‘tipping point’ and it hurts, emotionally and psychologically.
Ecological grief is a legitimate form of grief. It’s an appropriate response to the present and anticipated losses in our natural world.
Should I lose hope? Give up on me, on honoring Alex, on helping to stop ecological armageddon? Or have I learned something since my son died which helps me face this ecological abyss into which we have all been thrust?
I believe my experience of traumatic loss can help me tackle my own ecological despair.
Facing Trauma While Grieving
Firstly, it’s been the slow and difficult acceptance of my new reality as a loss mother that has allowed me to find a path towards healing. Similarly, in choosing to face today’s environmental destruction I can begin to respond to this crisis.
I also realize that the maternal instinct and love for my child can be used to protect the vulnerable and defenseless.
Small steps are so important and there are so many we can take, like supporting environmental NGOs and reducing our carbon footprint.
I cannot bring Alex back to life but I can choose to live in love and compassion, to share my life and help others. Likewise, I may not be able to stop the deforestation in Brazil or the level of CO2, but I can make choices regarding what I eat or how I travel.
It’s about taking personal responsibility for how I live in grief and how my actions impact the world.
I don’t want to be lost but instead to feel empowered.
I don’t want to live life as a victim but instead to regain my faith.
I want to be a part of the change for the better.
I need my life and that of my son to have mattered. I want my grief to be the catalyst for something good and that won’t happen if I give up now.
For it’s those that have lost so much who understand how painful it is to lose what matters. And what could be more important than ensuring there’s a safe blue planet for when we’re gone?
Published on Still Standing Magazine 31.01.2019