Kelp – a lesson on how a natural metaphor for loss and change can help process grief

Walking along a Cornish beach recently, the piles of kelp triggered some reflections about the process of grief. I had recently had a close family bereavement, and it seemed to me that nature was offering me a lesson.

Kelp is the oak of the marine world. These different kinds of brown seaweed cling to rocks and reefs using ‘holdfasts’, and form thick, swaying forests with long fronds filled with air bladders.

Whilst holdfasts remain anchored to the bottom for as long as a decade, there is an annual cycle of frond loss and re-growth, hence the piles on the beach. The rest of the year we tend not to be aware of these plants and the ecosystems they create – but kelp forests harbour a rich array of life, store carbon, and reduce coastal erosion. They are under threat in many places and need protection.

Thinking about all this it was obvious – but comforting nevertheless – to be reminded that in the widest sense, the cycle of life goes on. Seasons cycle, tides come and go – whether we pay attention or not.

Second, we are also part of this cycle of death and rebirth. The kelp has to let go of its fronds, in order to grow new ones. As Einstein said, “[our children] are us; our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.

Third, whilst the kelp plants will decay, their constituents – carbon, nitrogen and so on – live on. I had the powerful realisation that although I was grieving the loss of the physical manifestation of a person, they live on in me. Genetically – I see them in the mirror. Emotionally – they are part of how I perceive the world. Spiritually – they guide my morals and actions.

And finally, those holdfasts. An opportunity to think about what anchors me through the storms and the seasons. What holds true, my beliefs and values, and how these have been formed by my family as well as my own experience.

What metaphors does nature offer you?

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