I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge Without Music”
2016 has been, to put it mildly, an unkind year. We’ve lost an unprecedented number of pop-culture, political, scientific, and literary icons. World crises are at fever pitch and climbing. Some have even suggested that we end the year early to keep anything else awful from happening!
And, of course, we all bear our personal burdens and struggles, from everyday aggravations to cataclysmic events. Sometimes life just brings us to our knees. Nothing can negate the intense, complex agony of losing a loved one or facing a tragedy—but aromatherapy, in tandem with other forms of care (nourishing food, rest, the support of friends and family, and so on), can help.
Grief expresses itself in many forms: anger, intense weeping, stony silence, lack of motivation, exhaustion, confusion, and manic activity, among others. These different shapes of grief can slip rapidly from one to another. Every grieving person is unique, and every context in which we feel anguish is different. It’s important to allow yourself and others to grieve in your and their particular ways and for your and their particular reasons—not always easy when emotions are raw. Nobody can put on “party manners” while grieving. Everything is off kilter, and patience can be in short supply.
Aromatherapy can help us make the journey through grief—and it is a winding, everlastingly long pilgrimage—in several ways. Using essential oils, whether on the body, in the bath, or in a diffuser, can even out the wild swings of feelings that run rampant when we’re devastatingly sad. Essential oils can also help unfurl pent-up emotions; on the other hand, aromatherapy can also help calm us so that we can handle painful situations more calmly when needed.
It’s worth noting that not everyone will respond to an essential oil’s scent in the same way. Memories and the sense of smell are intimately linked—in fact, the olfactory sense is the one most directly related to the brain centers that handle memory and the emotions associated with them. So, for example, if lavender reminds you of a wonderful summer spent in Provence and lifts your spirits in the process, by all means use it. But if lavender’s scent overpowers you, smells bad to you, or sparks a negative feeling or memory, avoid surrounding yourself with it. It’s okay to experiment with different oils to see which ones help you.
Ultimately, if you like the smell of an essential oil and it makes you feel better, follow your instincts and use it. Don’t force yourself to use a particular essential oil if it creates negative feelings or deepens your sadness. Let your nose, not logic or someone else’s preference, be your guide. You will likely find that different oils appeal to you at different stages and moments in grieving. That’s completely fine: grief is a moving target.
The poet Millay touches the keen edge of grief in the opening poem of this blog: “I am not resigned,” she says, “to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind…I know, but I do not approve, and I am not resigned.” The following essential oils and oil blends may ease a path through the wilderness of sorrow. We may not be resigned to our loss, and we may not approve, but aromatherapy can help us come to peace and tap into our inner strength and energy.
Rose Oil can be especially helpful during times of grief and deep sadness, as it creates a sense of calm, healing, and comfort that can ease shock or horror. It can help release pent-up feelings and, just as a rose unfolds from bud to flower, allow one’s heart to unwind from the tight coil caused by anguish. Sometimes rose is just too much in the early stages of grief, however, when other emotions are roiling around. Again, let your sense of smell lead the way—if you don’t like the smell of this or any other recommended essential oil, don’t use it. Perhaps it will be of use another time.
Neroli soothes, cushioning the blow of the emotional stress, depression, and fear of great loss.
Frankincense, as a resin, protects our minds from wounds much as all resins protect trees when they are damaged. It can encourage contemplation and slow down racing thoughts, reducing the “if only” feelings that can attack us at our most vulnerable, grief-ridden moments. An incredibly soothing oil, it may also aid connection with the greater life force—the divine breath.
Melissa, with its green and citrusy scent, both buoys the spirit and calms the mind, offering , clarity and acceptance when grief, anger, fear, and shock muddle our thoughts and feelings.
Cypress Oil: Trees’ roots grow deep into the earth, giving them stability. Trees also possess the ability to move with the wind, giving them flexibility. They stand tall because they possess a combination of deep solidity and resilience. And most trees grow slowly, standing the test of time and requiring patience for their maturation. As a result, the wood oils can be particularly helpful in offering peace and calm, aiding emotional flexibility and patience with the process of grief. Cypress oil can help a person in grief accept circumstances and look to the future.
Cedarwood Oil, similarly to cypress oil, helps us stand firm during trying times while remaining flexible and open to the future.
Vetiver boosts energy at the same time that it uncoils anxiety. If you suffer from restlessness or sleeplessness, it can set your body back on track. Its earthiness is warming and appropriate for a gender-neutral blend. Feeling scattered? Vetiver can help.
Neroli offers hope that things will sort themselves out as they are meant to, restoring our confidence in a larger order amid seeming chaos. It can soothe repressed rage and helps us relinquish the need to control every detail in tragic or complicated situations, allowing us to travel through our own loss without feeling the need to control others’ journeys. Neroli is strong—just a drop or two is needed, or it can overpower.
Watch out for part 2 of Dealing with Grief through Aromatherapy!