Grief and autumn seem to go together. The retreat into dormancy, letting go of useless things, putting gardens to bed—a melancholy can settle on us among the fallen leaves. While we return to land-based living, it’s easy to overlook the fact that dying goes along with it. We might want to avoid dealing with death, yet it is healthy and natural to embrace the full spectrum of experiences. At the Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference, Emily Ruff, director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, shared tips for helping yourself or loved ones with the final transition. Whether it’s a sudden loss or just a seasonal remembrance, grief can take a toll, and support is needed. These simple tools and homegrown remedies ease the pain of loss and let the healing process flow naturally.
Ruff calls herself a death doula, and she explains that the word doula—which we normally associate with someone who helps bring a baby into the world—comes from the Greek word for a woman who serves. The doula’s main role as a servant is to offer the gift of companionship. Hours can pass just sitting quietly by the side of a dying person or with that individual’s loved ones. She bridges dialogue among family members and moves almost invisibly in the background to support the family unit and advocate for the dying. Much of the physical support she gives the the person about to transition also applies to friends and family, and it is especially good for caregivers. Just being present is key.
Elevated stress hormones weaken the immune system. End-of-life caregiving requires heavy heart and head work, and it often involves making weighty decisions and coordinating plans on many levels. Ruff recommends hawthorne (shown above), violet, borage, and linden as natural support for heart health. Chamomile, motherwort, tulsi, and milky oats are good teas for soothing and fortifying the nervous system. Mimosa tincture is a remedy that Ruff uses to bring out joy in the depth of a dark experience, just as the bright colors and playful flowers of the mimosa tree pop in contrast to dark forests.
Grief can steal appetites and disrupt digestive systems, but home-cooked soup warms the body and feeds the soul. Ruff says it’s important to get nutrients and stay hydrated, even if you don’t feel like eating. Keep a slow cooker simmering with a mix of root vegetables, mushrooms or bone broth. It’s an easy way to keep folks nourished during a time they might forget to eat.
In addition to a flower vase or two filled with freshly cut wildflowers, Ruff keeps flower essences on hand and plugs in a diffuser to fill the room with uplifting scents of citrus and mint. The same could be done with simmering orange slices or mint leaves in a pot of water. The best flower for cases of sorrow and down-heartedness is the classic rose. Like a tender, vulnerable heart protected by thorns, the flower’s scent helps soften the edges of pain. Ruff uses rose glycerite or a hydrosol that can even be sipped in water, providing another delicious way to stay hydrated.
On a farm, emotional losses come in many forms. While mainstream culture moves at full speed, it’s important to stop and honor the life well lived, recall the memories, and celebrate the joy of transitions. With intentional listening, anticipating needs, and simple, effective home remedies, the grief process can be sweet and meaningful.