Grieving Rx = Poetry Therapy + Nature Therapy

To deal with grieving the loss of my son Lucas to suicide, I write haikus which integrate poetry therapy with nature therapy. 

This self-therapy is underpinned by the beliefs an Anishinaabe elder taught me: that Lucas’s spirit is everlasting and can take different forms in nature. Sightings of eagles, redtail hawks, deer, salmon … give me great solace, feeling like visitations by his spirit. I am at peace kayaking in Humber Bay, engulfed by the spirit of nature and my son.

This blog describes both forms of therapies and includes my haiku poetry written from experiences in nature.

The haiku below was written the day after Lucas took his life. I went to grieve with my best friends, hiking along the Humber River and this vision came to us:

vast, flat wings flout winds, 

stall bald eagle grand survey

—assure Lucas’s fine

Poetry Therapy

Poetry therapy is the use of poems, stories, song lyrics, imagery, and metaphors to facilitate personal growth, healing and greater self-awareness.  It is a type of expressive arts therapy, similar to art and music therapy.  Poetry therapy includes bibliotherapy, narrative, journal writing, metaphor, and storytelling.

“When other techniques may not allow you to break through psychological defenses – in other words, if it’s too difficult to talk directly about something – poetry therapy can help with that,” states Nicholas Mazza, PhD, professor of social work and founding editor of the Journal of Poetry Therapy. “Poetry,”  Mazza notes, “has the potential to validate how a person is feeling.”

I wrote this gazing over Lake Ontario, thinking of my son :

rafts of gulls bask in

lake sunrise gilded stream, lights

son’s path to the stars

How Does Poetry Therapy Help?

Poetry therapy:

  • Creates a safe space to express feelings and thoughts, helps work through tough emotions and experiences.
  • Provides a creative outlet, helps individuals explore feelings and thoughts in a novel way.
  • Teaches the power of symbolism and metaphor, helps individuals understand themselves and their lives in a more profound way.
  • Enables people to connect with their deepest emotions and beliefs, helps boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

In my case, haiku poetry therapy helps me connect to my emotions and process my grieving thoughts about Lucas.

These two haikus got me through the initial shock and grief of losing my son: 

joie de vivre masque

uplifted, but misled all

—masked his sad soul, eyes

and this one:

ebbing, tired, restrained …

essence, vitality, values

bestowed to you, yours

Nature Therapy

Nature and my poetry are intertwined. It is through nature that my connection with Lucas is greatest. 

Nature therapy is a type of mental health therapy which entails “experiencing nature to improve overall well-being and remediate mental health symptoms.” Nature therapy can involve short, simple experiences or be part of a formal program.  Nature is an essential part of my life, it is where I experience Lucas’s spirit through encounters with wildlife according to Anishnaabe beliefs about the afterlife, that the spirit of the deceased is everlasting within nature.

there’s a kind of hush

all over slate sky, cloud tufts …

listen carefully

There are many different types of nature therapies. Ecotherapy is the formal psychological label and can be integrated into traditional therapies.  

Ecotherapy’s premise is that people are connected to and impacted by the natural environment. Numerous practitioners of ecotherapy “believe that the earth has a self-righting capacity which operates through complex systems of integrated balance, and that if people can harmonize with these systems, they may experience improved mental health.”

dandelion bloom

in eight-ton boulder cleft—Zen

equilibrium

How Does Nature Therapy Work?

Participants experience beneficial effects from  nature resulting from what people see, and from what they experience through all senses while in nature. In one study, participants recovered more quickly from psychological stress when exposed to nature sounds (from a fountain and tweeting birds), than when subjected to traffic noise. 

Research has proven the positive benefits of connecting with nature. In a study conducted by Mind, a mental health charity organization, nature walks reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of participants, compared to only 45% of those who took walks through a mall.

Although direct contact with nature has many benefits, individuals do not need to spend time in the environment to benefit from the positive effects. A study found heart surgery patients in intensive care reduced their anxiety and pain medication needs by viewing pictures of trees and water.

I draw immense and lasting relief from my depression by engaging in various forms of nature therapy, whether it is hiking and kayaking the Humber River, canoe trips, or cross-country skiing.  

On the shores of Humber Bay in the early morning pre-light:

phosphorus white swans

sleep, lake/fog/clouds grunge sole light 

—chiaroscuro Zen

On the banks of the Humber River, late one evening:

full term moon poised,

clouds dance dance of seven veils, 

her majesty glows

Sitting in my living room, dealing with  insomnia, I was inspired by the dark light:

furrowed field of clouds

fruitful with moisture, swell to

break water below

Conclusions

My fusion of nature and poetry therapies has helped me substantially  process the loss of my beloved Lucas, while communicating via an Indigenous tobacco ceremony with his spirit.  It also allows me to share the haikus with friends and relatives so they understand where I am at.  

sacred spirit rite

tears tobacco daub lake cast,

floats yearnings to lost 

Parents of future Eli’s Place participants will rest assured that their 18- to 35-year-olds will be exposed to the healing qualities of art expression therapy and ecotherapy.

sumac alchemy

—beacon flares off stored sun, 

crimson, gold warm sky


Richard Childs: Father of the late Lucas, outdoors person, haiku and technical writer, and facilitator of organizational change. Grateful volunteer helping Eli’s Place come into fruition to save and enable young adult lives.

Eli’s Place will offer diverse treatment modalities for serious mental illness that focus on recovery and resilience. Learn more about our mission to serve young adults 18 – 35 and how you can help us open our doors.

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