My Grief is Not for Sale

The loss of a loved one is not an opportunity to plug your essential oils.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

If you’ve ever experienced acute grief — by which I mean, the loss of a loved one by death, you know it’s an incurable disease that lingers in the background for the rest of your life. You wake up with it, and you go to bed with it. This kind of grief never fully leaves you, and it becomes particularly traumatizing if the loss is an “out of order death” (i.e. a sudden death, one that was overly violent, the death of a child, etc.).

I lost my dad suddenly and tragically last year, and the trauma that ensued still lingers. While it’s been a year already and I’ve more or less regained some sense of stability, early grief looked like clumsily wading through the wreckage, trying as best as I could to grasp onto solid ground.

The day after he died, I could no longer keep food down without overwhelming nausea and acid reflux. The burning in my stomach lasted for the better part of that year. I could barely sleep or focus. I’d walk into a room and completely forget what I was looking for. Once, I lost my shit when my husband cut through our counter top to rearrange the kitchen without giving me forewarning. I became obsessed with collecting house plants and focused any energy I had left on trying to keep them alive.

Then, a month after my Dad died, the woman he was dating at the time decided to seize the opportunity and terrorize my siblings and me, taking it upon herself to elicit an intricate harassment campaign while desperately trying to convince her social media followers that we weren’t honoring his death. I think she was looking for something to control, becoming volatile when she discovered it wouldn’t be us. In any case, the whole thing was disgusting, abusive, and vitriolic.

My formerly quiet life had become utter chaos, and there was very little left within my control.

The thing about grief is you can never predict who will show up for you and who won’t. Many people I thought would be supportive just disappeared, while others I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade stepped forward. The whole experience would’ve been overwhelming to say the least, if I wasn’t already inundated with deep, eviscerating sadness.

Pain has a hierarchy, and grief simply takes precedence over everything else.

That said, I tried to be kind and soft to anyone who did try reaching out, hoping it would distract and placate them so as to limit any potential conflict. I didn’t want to see anyone, and I didn’t want to have to explain it. And I especially couldn’t be around people who didn’t get it, but I didn’t want to hurt their feelings for not getting it.

In any case, that’s what life looked like for me when I got a message from an acquaintance of mine, the purpose of which was to plug her MLM’s essential oils.

Now let me preface this by saying I’m going to assume the woman who messaged me thought she was being kind and supportive. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here, assuming she meant well and wasn’t trying to exploit my grief for her own financial gain. Because that would be really unethical and gross.

Though, I’ll admit, the fact that she had to premise the conversation by saying “I don’t want this to sound like a sales pitch” should’ve been the first red flag for me that this was, indeed, a sales pitch. And of course, had I not been deep in grief, I may have actually recognized how messed up it was. But I WAS GRIEVING, so I didn’t — and I think that’s precisely why I got the message in the first place.

A solid search on Reddit’s AntiMLM thread showed me this wasn’t an isolated incident. Many grieving people receive messages from acquaintances trying to capitalize on their sadness and use it as an opportunity to plug a product, whether that’s essential oils, makeup, candles, you name it. I’m horrified that this is actually a thing, and so angry at myself for not having seen it for what it was at the time.

The fact that this happens to other people tells me these MLM companies must encourage their distributors to reach out to those going through difficult times, intentionally showing them how to exploit money from the vulnerable. Luckily for me, while I didn’t have the mindset to be rightly offended at the time, at least I was spared the financial loss, because I didn’t buy a thing.

Not only do essential oils not cure grief, but suggesting something so trivial as oils to even treat grief is hugely dismissive of the gravity of loss. And it’s actually quite offensive, to be honest.

“Multilevel-marketing companies such as Amway and Mary Kay have long sold people — primarily women — the idea of building a business by working their social connections,” reports the article “How Essential Oils Became the Cure for Our Age of Anxiety” published by The New Yorker. But who draws the line between making a social connection, and gaining a paycheck? And what about the notion that women, in particular, are being targeted to distribute the product, as well as trained to prey on other women in order to sell it?

Oh, and it gets better. Did you know that Gary Young, the founder and former CEO of Young Living, a popular MLM company that sells essential oils, has been charged multiple times for practicing medicine without a license? He also got caught making false medical claims and settled a lawsuit with a woman claiming she had renal failure due to the Vitamin C Young’s clinic was injecting.

If he can claim essential oils treat depression and cancer, maybe he’s made the claim it treats grief, too? But also — HOW is any of this ethical?

I’d argue it’s really not. But today, in the age of social media, everyone is an expert in something they have no experience with. Even if that something is falsified, manipulated, and exploitative. People find their community and receive all the validation they’re seeking, regardless of the fact that their community is only a fraction (and certainly not a good representation) of reality.

Look, I’ll meet you halfway here; just because I’ve never received many benefits from essential oils, doesn't mean they don’t do something for someone else. But when someone plugs oils into a conversation that begins on the grounds of loss, they are only exploiting the vulnerable. Particularly if the person they’re speaking with is not already an avid consumer of oils.

It makes the whole approach really, really wrong.

And let me just state for anyone who’s unaware: absolutely nothing cures grief. Unless you’re a necromancer, you can’t bring back the dead. The experience of grief is as unique to the griever as is the love they have for whomever they lost. Grief is a sacred and personal experience, one in which which the griever deserves respect and to be left alone.

If you’ve been through acute grief, then you know it’s one of those things you can’t control or fix — it’s something you have to build your life around. Anyone who knows the insides of loss would know there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and they sure as hell wouldn’t do something so arrogant as to suggest one.

I’m basically a house cat with a penchant for introspection | linktr.ee/shanleighwats

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