Some of my blog followers (and all of my friends) know I am a committed gardener. I became a Master Gardener a fair number of years ago. While I don’t give my time volunteering much anymore, I have 15 gardens of my own to maintain, as well as occasionally doing some design work by request.
Garden behavior is a true reflection of life. The Japanese were known for creating microcosms in their garden displays. The greater world reflected in the miniature. For instance, a dwarf planting or rock inside a graded rippled sand enclosure often represented an island of earth surrounded by the moving sea. These thoughtful creations mimic true nature and the human emotions, all in one compact space.
When loss comes into our lives, there are times when we see it coming, but often we don’t have any idea what is moving at us in the form of a freight train. Here are some examples:
The company we have worked forever for has been sold and there are murmurs of job cuts, salary reductions, layoffs and suddenly we lose our livelihood; we, or a loved one has been diagnosed with a disease that is threatening life or quality of life; there are serious rifts in our relationship with others which escalate until we find ourselves alone; we have addiction-type behaviors that impair activities from morning to night; a tragic injury or accident has left us or someone we love in despair. This is loss. I have known tragic loss myself and it rocked my world, forever. When this happens, what do we do?
When I wrote my book, Let Go and Let Love: Survivors of (Suicide) Loss Healing Handbook, I taught 7 tools for dealing with tragic loss. I found myself at the end of the careening freight train, and yet the tools gave me a way to find my future in the face of unwanted frightening change. I will never forget the loss, but my mind and heart have moved in positive and fruitful ways since. Allow me to list the 7 steps to healing here for your reference.
- Deep Breathing
- Silence and Release
- Allowing without judgement
- What you say and think is what you get
- Being in the now moment
Lest you think I am making gentle fun of my experiences from my back yard and comparing it to true human loss, understand this; the lessons from Mother Nature differ very little from the lessons of daily life, including the tragic losses we face. The tools to being or becoming productive people within any society are the same as what I can easily observe in my gardens. These very principles clearly work in nature, and they ultimately work to bring us back into balance. So, what does a garden teach us about loss?
1. Change is inevitable. The garden you loved, loved, loved last year, will not be exactly the same this time around. This past winter in New England left many of us soil worshipers in a sad quandary. Hardy perennials perished for no reason. I lost some of my most cherished plants without explanation or warning. I simply wept at the foot of my crocosmia which no longer existed, and which in the past 6 years had grown to 5 feet high and 4 feet wide.
Tool #2 Deep Breathing and #3 Gratitude. I exercised deep breathing and felt gratitude for how glorious it looked last year. I planted a new one right in the same place and waited for it to bloom just the same as before, albeit smaller. And there she was, only 18 inches tall with just one bloom!
We can observe the change, embrace its impact on us and create a direction that will provide us sure footing with concrete results. Not all at once, mind you, but one great lighted stone at a time. Breathe through your loss and anxiety. Keep your head and heart clear of turmoil. Appreciate and be grateful for what you had before the loss struck, and create a path for having peace again. The alternative is simply staying stuck in the past with nothing to move you.
2. You may never see it (the loss) coming. On July 15, several years ago, I awoke to an impending storm that produced hail the size of golf balls for 12 minutes in a microburst over my yard. At the time I had 54 hostas, multiple rose bushes, Japanese maples and each and every one of them were shredded, de-leafed and collapsed beyond saving. The next week I had several garden clubs coming to my gardens to tour. There was nothing to be done, but wait for spring next year.
Tool #5, Allowing without judgement and #7, Be in the Now Moment and Experience it. There was Mother Nature in all of her glory. I was not in charge here, She was. And She had her reasons for making the climate and the atmosphere respond to the needs of the earth to keep it in balance by sending hail. Believe me when I tell you it was spectacular to watch. My backyard gardens do not take precedence over the balance of the earth, so if I could, (and did) see that by allowing nature to take its course, I might just have some greater understanding at the other end that will keep ME in balance. Your loss is part of the plan, as unwanted as it is. We need to allow that experiences in tragedy have a reason. We are not in charge here, but we can respond in a way that keeps our balance assured. We experience the moment and recognize that it will always be a lesson that makes us better in some way.
3. Thinking negatively produces more negativity. I have an arrangement with the deer in my environment. There are a lot of them and only 1 of me. They love certain things in the garden and sometimes it just happens to be the same things that I love. Roses, arborvitaes, hostas. So my arrangement with them is that if they leave my valuable inventory alone, I will give them all of the apples they want. PLUS, they can meditate in my labyrinth as much as they care to. This year they ate 3 hostas. OK, I have about 60+ hostas. So the first thing I did was assume they would devastate my plants everywhere, and begin a new era of munching that would leave my gardens in tatters. When I saw where my thinking was going, I turned it around by acknowledging that 3 small hostas were a tiny percent of the gorgeous ones that were left un-nibbled. I accepted the loss and mentally allowed them the snack.
Tool #6, What you think and say is what you get. The moment I started agonizing over what could happen to the rest of my plants, vis a vis the deer, is the moment that I created my own negative territory. The dark cloud of what might happen becomes the reality of what you bring to yourself through negative thought and words. By viewing your loss, no matter how devastating it may be, as a way to view a path forward – changes everything. New doors will open. Hunger for happiness will be appeased. Need for fulfillment will emerge as success. Within the sadness of loss, lies the seed for joy. We must say the words to support that, and think the thoughts that make it happen within. Negativity breeds negativity. Positive thinking produces positive change.
4. The need to grow and produce is just below the surface. The photo at the beginning of this article is a Chaste Tree. In colder zones such as mine, the bush will die back all the way to the root system. What is left above the ground is dead wood that resembles a plant that is no longer living. Each spring I stare at this not-live-looking thing and I am sure it will never emerge again to grace my yard. I am almost convinced that I must dig up these dead roots and put in another plant that will not succumb to winters fierceness. Then somewhere late in June, a couple of small leaves form at the base of the soil, and so it begins again to reach for the water and sun. In the end, it is 5 feet tall, full of butterfly and hummingbird attracting blossoms, fragrant and each bloom almost 8 inches long.
Tool #1, Intention. Within each one of us exists all of the elements for new growth and beauty, no matter how we look or what is going on around us. It is in our DNA – it is part of our very nature. Through Intention, we acknowledge the internal desire to reach around and through pain and loss to move in the direction of positivity and joy. By stating the desire to move forward, to heal, however small the step, we are following and nurturing the seed that was planted to do it in the first place.
When loss comes down the tracks and sets our world careening outward, we have choices. First, we grieve. Then, we can stay in a small dark place or get moving. I am forever changed by losing my son Drew, but I also have all the tools that assist me to embrace his life as he lived it and my life to come.
Blessings, Gabrielle Doucet