Know the difference between those who stay to feed the soil and those who come to grab the fruit. — Unknown
This quote came to mind after reading a recent review of my new book, Soul Messengers: A True Story about a Mystic, a Guardian, and a Businessman. The reviewer lamented that although the book contained many “thought-provoking stories,” there were no “stand-alone tips or tricks for the grieving.”
Spoiler: There are No Tips or Tricks
Don’t tell that reviewer, but not only does my most recent book not contain any tips and tricks for the grieving – as a therapist who has been working with the grieving for more than 25 years, I really don’t have any.
Over the course of my career, the number of broken and vulnerable people who have walked through my office door is staggering. And like that book reviewer, some have been looking for “tips and tricks” to manage their grief. Others have come seeking a hands-down miracle, some combination of a magic elixir to drink, a secret technique to employ, or a dangling carrot to ingest. They learn all too soon, however, that beyond the shingle that hangs on my door and the impressive string of grief-related credentials that nestle behind my name, there is no secret passage way or short-cut.
Despite the years I have devoted to this work, I have nothing very sparkly in my bag of tricks. In fact, if there is anything at all in my bag, it’s going to resemble the topic of today’s quote — which is that decidedly un-sparkly substance known as soil.
The Truth About Grief
Grief work is not a time to reach for the fruit. It is a time for learning how to feed the soil. The best way to “get through” grief is not to search for quick fixes or slick ways to snuff it out, but instead to find ways to make use of the nourishment that exists in the dark soil of loss (and let me add, the allusion to compost, manure, ahem, poop, is not unintentional — grief stinks).
So, yes, grief is a lot like dirt. In fact, maybe one of the reasons I took so naturally to grief work in the first place is because my DNA is brimming with wisdom on how to feed the soil — literally. Having come from a long line of farmers, I used to think it was a cruel joke that I could barely keep a house plant alive, let alone grow a garden full of something with which I could make a salad. And then I realized that I was simply built for a different kind of cultivation. I do know how to feed the soil — just like my ancestors did — but it’s a different kind of soil. I am good at helping people dig through the dirt that death delivers. I have an uncanny knack for finding what is nourishing and can bring growth during times of darkness. I am patient and I will wait with my clients — sometimes years — for a seedling to sprout. And if that sounds a little bit like watching grass grow, sometimes it is. It is hard, tedious, slow, often achingly difficult work.
The ache is grief work. The painful reaching for the light beyond the thin grey line of loss that stretches across the horizon of the future, is soul growth.
Not a moment of it is easy, but none of it is without purpose. And if we follow where grief leads us, if we feed the soil, and wait for the fruit, it will not only nourish us in our time of loss, it will transform us and change how we live our lives.
There are no tips and tricks for the grieving, but there are resources. And the Grief Kit is one of them.