Good Grief Garden
Today would have been my father’s 99th birthday. He died two years ago at Christmas time in 2015. He said, “You do not keep having birthdays after you die.” But it seems to be how we humans think. I am sure next year on 11.18.18 our family will gather to celebrate his 100th “birthday”. Dad loved parties. At his funeral Father Rudy called him, “the poster child of extroversion.” His enthusiasm for life was contagious. When we were younger he took us kids everywhere with him, just so he had company on his many errands or deliveries. We often rode in the back of his red pick up truck. Even when he was in his nineties he would take one of us with him to knock on some neighbor’s door for a chat – always bringing them food, such as artichokes from Castroville in exchange for perhaps oranges from their backyard trees.
If you let Dad in at all, he found a way to show you respect, so you ended up feeling seen, accepted, of value. That sincere interest in others is the essence, the moist organic compound that makes the soil able to bring forth fruit, vegetables, flowers, and decent people.
When I got the news that my Dad died, I wailed and wailed on the couch for hours, grieving with my family. I feel like a part of me died that day too. I find I am more somber in general but more serene. It is like the sharp edges of my personality got sanded down.
Grief can be good when it is accepted and not pushed away. Today the other grieving offspring sent texts, video messages and tons of photos of Dad. That helps. They feel the same way and we can indulge in memories together. Grief longs to find comfort from others to soak up the excess heaviness of heart. So, it is better not to go it alone. To reach out. For the same reason, we should extend ourselves and listen to others who are in grief. I remember how my cousins, who had already lost their parents, came toward us with comfort after our mother died 10 years ago. They knew grief needed others for consolation.
A point I want to make is that you can grieve and it does not have to be suffering. It can make your heart ache as emotional pain and physical pain hit the same place in the brain (Gabor Mate). So it can hurt but if you have an accepting attitude and don’t contract or tighten against the pain, but breathe into it and go with it, you can have an exquisite, fully sad experience. Tears release stress hormones, so crying feels good too. Holding back grief hurts worse than letting it out because the body tightens, tension builds up and the grief seeks some unhealthy outlet. In that state you are suffering. So it does not have to be only in moments of happiness that we feel good. Being accepting of and experiencing grief is to embrace being fully alive.
While working in the garden all day, I was thinking that when I accept whatever I am feeling without cringing or fighting, I open up to a good experience that can be healing, even pleasurable. So my tears today are a good grief. These tears water the seeds of life as it is. I feel content.
 Gabor Mate, MD. (2003) When the Body Says No. Exploring the Stress Disease Connection. Wiley.com