April 19th, 2019

Grief can be positive, SACPA told

By Mabell, Dave on November 23, 2018.

Environmental scientist Amy Spark speaks on ecological grief during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald


Floods, fires, clear-cut logging – they can all trigger human grief.

How we deal with that, a Lethbridge audience heard, may determine whether anything positive comes from the experience.

Too often, participants at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs were reminded, Canadians avoid talking about loss and grief. Yet it’s a valuable freedom we still have, while residents of other nations may be prevented from talking about their grief and fears for political or personal safety reasons.

Calgary environmental scientist Amy Spark explained how residents in the Ghost River area northwest of the city dealt with their anger and ecological grief when a local company clear-cut a significant part of their valley over two consecutive years.

Floods had previously swept through the area, she pointed out, and residents recognized that as a natural occurrence. But logging takes away forest lands and recreational areas for commercial gain.

People were angry about the logging company and the government department that let it proceed, she said. They experienced grief over their loss.

“It’s helpful to be able to speak about it,” and that’s what happened. Then they met with members of the nearby First Nation who also felt the loss of that familiar land – and they decided to build a cairn together, to indicate its significance.

When work was completed, Spark said, both groups came together for a commemoration and a meal. And a documentary movie was filmed to show how grief had fuelled positive action.

It’s normal to experience grief when a loved one dies, she said. There’s little the survivors can do.

But when a valley or another natural area is “lost,” Spark said people can take positive steps to recover – find a new area to explore.

“There are still natural spaces out there,” she said.

Connect with others who share similar concerns, Sharp suggested. And get involved with the issues, she added.

“Don’t just watch the news.”

Jodi Lammiman, a spiritual director from Edmonton, stressed the importance of listening to others who may have a different understanding of events that may cause grief.

It’s helpful to create spaces where those dialogues can happen, she added. It’s one way to avoid the polarized positions seen increasingly across the U.S.

Lammiman agreed with a questioner’s comments about the false dichotomy between humans and other living things.

“What we do to nature, we do to ourselves,” she said.

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