“Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf’s a flower; / But only so an hour. / Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.” ― Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
On a symbolic level, nature can teach us a lot about death and loss. A walk through a forest is ripe with imagery of the natural cycle of life. Even the changing of seasons shows us that nothing lasts forever.
A return to nature is the final stage of death. Whether it’s scattering ashes or a traditional burial, mother nature ends up taking us back. For the living who are left to grieve, nature also can offer sympathy.
Grief, Stress, and Nature
While naturalists have long touted the healing benefits of nature, science has finally caught up. Nature has a profound effect on our emotional health and our ability to deal with stress. So just how helpful is a little walk in the park?
It’s been proven that fresh air can help regulate levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps stabilize our happiness and mood. That’s not all. Access to natural sunlight gives our bodies more Vitamin D and Melatonin, both important to our overall wellbeing.
A Stanford study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that nature also reduces a negative thinking process known as rumination. Rumination is defined as a thought process where a person continually focuses on what makes them sad, ultimately reinforcing their negative feelings. Those experiencing rumination show increased levels of neural activity in certain parts of the brain. The study had some participants walk through scenic nature trails for 90 minutes, while others walked a route in an urban environment. Those with the nature walk were reported to have lower levels of rumination and neural activity linked to depression, while the urban walkers did not.
Other studies have shown that nature can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and anger, and improves overall happiness and quality of life. Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful times in someone’s life. Nature can be a cathartic escape. It allows people time to reflect, reconnect, and reset themselves.
How Your Funeral Home Can Incorporate Nature
Knowing the benefits nature has, what are some ways you can use nature to help families heal?
- Set up a family nature walk at the nearest trail or state park. Use Facebook or a community newsletter to coordinate the event. Families could meet at your funeral home or at the park.
- Hold a community picnic in the cemetery or memorial park. Have it catered or make it a potluck. A relaxing picnic outdoors can give families time to reconnect with loved ones and nature.
- You could also help keep nature clean. Host a community cleanup day for a park or cemetery so that people can continue to enjoy the benefits of nature.
- Work with a nursing home, church, or other community leaders to coordinate a community garden. A garden is a great way to get people outdoors and can provide your community with fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers.
- You can send families memorial seed packets to grow their own plants and to let them know you’re thinking of them.
Have any other ideas on how to incorporate nature into your funeral home? Let us know in the comments below!