Do you ever experience deep sadness when you reflect on the natural world around you?
Perhaps during a moment on the lake when you notice more algae blooms, fewer fish, or a shorter ice-season.
Maybe it’s when you realize you just don’t see the birds, turtles, or caribou you used to see as a child.
Or on a hot summer day, when you have to reconsider your plans due to the smog advisory.
Or maybe it’s more blatant – the way your home will never be the same after a flood or a wildfire.
Solastalagia & Ecological Grief
The losses we, as a community, are experiencing and the sorrow they cause have been described as solastalgia. This is a relatively new term and is used to express the melancholy of feeling homesick when you are still at home, because the environment has irreversibly transformed. Beyond melancholia, many are describing this feeling of sorrow for loss of the natural world as ecological grief:
“The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”
Why do we grieve?
When we give meaning to the losses we experience, we are grieving. We grieve to process the loss and integrate it into our life. We grieve as an extension of the love we have felt.
Can grief really be experienced for plants, animals, and even places?
As the world changes, we are processing more loss of species and landscapes. If those were creatures or places you had a connection with – it can absolutely be an experience of grief.
What does grief look like?
Feelings of grief could manifest into anger, disgust, disappointment or even leave you feeling overwhelmed or alone, like no one else understands what you are experiencing. Grief can also lead to feeling lost or hopeless, like you feel like you have no idea how to help your planet or yourself within it. It could also be a craving for connection with another person who feels the same way that you do- a profound longing for the health of our planet or how things used to be.
While grief is a normal reaction, it is important to go through a healthy grieving process. Without processing grief there are concerns that we can get trapped in feelings of anger, pain, numbness, and fear. One way we can honor a loss and say goodbye is by taking our grief public through a process of mourning. Mourning can happen through ceremony, creative expression, celebration, or conversation. Practicing whichever process of mourning feels authentic to you will help you build confidence, resilience, and community connections.
So am I supposed to have a funeral for a tree?
If you feel a bit silly about your sorrow for the dying oak tree in the backyard, or the ceremony you held for the bird your cat caught, just know you are not alone in your pain. From an obituary for a lost coral reef in Australia, to a vigil for orcas in British Columbia, around the world there are people expressing their ecological grief and mourning various losses. Some folks wrote and published a heartfelt goodbye to the last member of a species of Panamanian frogs and one American artist even created a virtual memorial platform to pay tribute to extinctions occurring globally.
How can I get help?
All of these courageous people are acknowledging their grief and creating safe spaces to mourn lost elements of our natural world. At Family TLC we also want to create a space for your ecological grief, so tell us, what are the ecological losses that have impacted you and how do you mourn those losses?
Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N. R. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8(4), 275.
Kyera CookMA in Environmental Education and Communication