My Grief Plants Offers Hope and Community to Those Facing Loss
Jamee Warden wants to strip away the stigma that surrounds grief and change the way we acknowledge loss
For many of the world’s cultures, grieving the loss of a loved one is a ritualized process undertaken not just by close friends and family, but by a community. Death as an abstract is also celebrated or treated with reverence amongst certain races, religions or tribes – Día de los Muertos is one of the most recognizable examples. Loss is a universal part of life and yet here in the U.S., we still have no societal norms when it comes to grief. It’s the elephant in the room, one we’re loathe to broach for fear of seeming intrusive or insensitive or invoking our own dread.
The events of 2020 have – at least – made Americans understand that grief is something we all experience, for reasons other than (or including) death: a diagnosis, the loss of jobs, careers, relationships, home or life as we know it. In a matter of weeks, over 330 million people found themselves grappling with isolation, loneliness or separation, working and homeschooling under imperfect circumstances, grieving the loss of normalcy and facing an uncertain future.
For Jamee Warden, the pandemic was the motivation for her to fulfill a longtime dream of helping those struggling to navigate grief. Warden is the founder of My Grief Plants, a business and platform designed to “normalize talking openly about grief, and equip those who are grieving with the tools to work though their loss,” she says. “MGP acts as a kind of consultant, providing resources for people to navigate everything from funeral planning to finding a therapist, or just lending an ear. I’m a ‘Grief Liaison,’ if you will.”
While the business is still developing, Warden’s overarching goal is to have a “community for grievers,” she says, “so they know they’re not alone and can begin to heal, and for those wanting to help a friend or loved one through their loss and better understand what they’re going through.”
There’s a vast difference between wallowing and allowing yourself to grieve, which is the only way to move through sadness toward healing. “It’s so important to feel your feelings; don’t judge yourself for how long your grief lasts,” says Warden. “It’s not linear and it’s messy. Enjoy the good days and love yourself through the bad.” A support system is essential, whether it’s a therapist, support group, emotional support animal or friends. Take care of yourself physically by exercising and eating properly and find (perhaps new) ways to express your grief – journaling, painting or volunteering are a few ideas.
There’s a reason Warden’s website and marketing collateral are peppered with plant-based metaphors (“Let’s root for each other and watch each other grow”). “Nature has a way of reminding us that everything has a season. I’ve learned to be patient with the darkness and trust that I’ll see the sun again, and that’s what has kept me going,” she says. “One day, you’ll look in the mirror and won’t recognize yourself, because you’ve grown. You’ve bloomed again.”
Warden works with Austin-area vendors shops like Frond Plant Shop, Desk Plants and Plant Parenthood, as well as Eterneva, a company that turns the ashes of loved ones – including pets – into lab-grown diamonds, Oaktree, an artisan urn company, and Loyal Pet Memorials.
Through the company’s website, you can order Bereavement Boxes, customizable packages with “holistic healing elements” that may include house plants or wildflower seed bombs, local specialty products like tea and honey and self-care items (My Grief plants ships nationally and delivers within Austin).
Like many people, Warden was drawn to house plants over cut flowers because they’re meant to be nurtured so they can thrive. “Even if you’re intimidated by caring for house plants – and I am – the point is to give it your best and not give up. Like all things in life, you’ll figure it out,” she says.
Warden is no stranger to grief. At 22, her father passed away due to due to complications from a motorcycle accident, and her mother’s suicide in 2018 hit her particularly hard. She began experiencing a resurgence of anxiety at the start of the pandemic and began seeing a therapist, which is when the idea for MGP crystallized.
“I’d known for a long time that I wanted to start a business designed to help others grieve, but I knew that couldn’t heal others until I healed myself,” she says. “That’s when I began a deep dive into different avenues, from Grieving Better workshops with Libby Carstensen, to more writing and listening to self-development podcasts. I learned to love myself through my grief.”
With COVID-19-related deaths (including suicides and substance abuse) at an all-time high, it’s critical for Americans to find a healthy, constructive way to cope with grief. “We can’t continue to suffer in silence,” says Warden. “Our society is more connected than ever, and yet, people are still in anguish behind closed doors.”
There are basic gestures, says Warden, that can go a long way toward helping those experiencing loss. “The biggest one, I believe, is keeping in touch. Please check in, whether by sending a card, an ‘I love you’ text or sharing a favorite anecdote to make them laugh. Don’t be afraid of mentioning their loved one, if they’re grieving someone who’s passed away.”
Grief can be extremely isolating, notes Warden. It’s a symptom that can last for many years and have a dire impact upon decision-making and even daily functions. Being mindful of these facts, and avoiding platitudes are important. “Telling someone to get over their loss is very hurtful,” she says. “Everyone has their own timeline for processing grief.”
That timeline may vary, but, Warden says, “You have a choice. You get to decide if you’re going to get back up again.” As My Grief Plants continues to evolve, her hope is to start a podcast to “grow the conversation about grief” and one day offer an affordable retreat alternative for those experiencing deep grief. “I’d really like to see therapy become more financially and logistically accessible and inclusive,” she says. “Healing should be available to everyone.”
Ending the Stigma
While the pandemic has made conversations surrounding depression and anxiety a mainstream topic, most Americans are still struggling to find the language to talk about their internal struggles. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older … yet 36.9 percent of those suffering received treatment.” A national survey by the CDC released in August states, “Overall, 40.9 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition …. related to the pandemic and started or increased substance above to cope … The percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior was significantly higher” among young adults, minority racial and ethnic groups, non-Hispanic blacks, caregivers and essential workers.”
For those who have a history of mental illness or loss, Warden says, “Talking about it is invaluable. Your story could be the answered prayer for someone else going through a difficult time.”