Digging, chopping, pulling, pushing—shovel, hoe, pitch fork, wheel barrow. Working in my weedy vegetable garden in recent days I began to think about the how much this physical effort is a mirror for grief.
Mourning the loss of someone or something seems impossible sometimes. Like my spring vegetable garden the grief almost appears too big to tackle. And certainly, is too much labor for one single day. There is no way to “get over” a loss with a simple platitude or two. There is no way to push through the heavy lifting of gardening by shear muscle or an all-day blitz.
Both I’ve discovered, require time, energy, persistence, showing up and waiting.
The mystery of both grief and my garden is the thing that is happening when it looks like nothing is happening.
In the garden, the soil looks more like a muddy mess. Mourning—on a good day can feel just that way – like a muddy, uncertain, mess. Mourning a loss leaves me wondering if something new will ever sprout from all the pain and suffering. Will there be something else other than what’s sticking to my shoes and a big batch of dandelions? (Which are thriving in my vegetable garden right next to a large patch of thistle.)
Right now, my vegetable garden are really far from a place where the scent of fresh basil is thick around the tomato plants bending under the weight of red globes. A place where carrot tops peak from the soil. A place where in the morning it can appear that there aren’t any zucchini big enough to harvest and in the afternoon there are four huge ones ready for picking. A place where potato plants bloom letting me know that something delicious will be harvested for fall.
Yet even as that abundance might be looming in the future of my garden. For now, it is the mud and the mess I need. It is the sheer force of digging, pulling and bagging weeds. It is the physicality of chopping up and smoothing out the soil in anticipation of new garden rows.
I feel the need for fresh soil. For the mystery of taking my wheelbarrow around to the compost pile. Digging deep past the freshest contributions of straw and wood shavings and chicken poop and kitchen waste to the rich newly formed soil underneath. Using a wide-tined pitchfork to scoop aside the newer material and reveal what might be ready to put back in the garden.
Digging even deeper I discover a whole unknown layer of worm life busy working through the compost. I had no idea they were stirring, sifting, consuming inside my compost pile. At work every day in the dark mystery of making something new.
In this discovery I see the potential. Grief will not win out; even though I might not know or understand the pain of a loss, I can trust that something else is happening. That in digging around in the feelings of sorrow, confusion, regret, there is something productive happening. And when I can, remembering that mourning a loss, like working in my garden isn’t something to be finished in a day.
Like gardening, I need breaks from mourning. Rest, waiting, sitting in the feelings and noticing what’s coming up from the soil of my life. Observing and understanding that time is already working to my advantage.