The Peaceful Garden – A Bereavement Support Project
The Peaceful Garden like everything at Little Haven seeded from an idea, taken ownership of by a few, continues to flourish and evolve under Sally’s tender care. Today along with Little Haven’s bereaved who seek comfort in it’s quiet, hospital patients and staff take refuge in it’s shade ~ a little corner of peace. Families have added to the garden, a sculpture here, a flowering shrub there, in memory of their loved ones. …And the magnificent old Poinciana, the centerpiece of the garden, with consciousness and wisdom has spread it’s limbs to provide a sanctuary for the heart that needs soothing.
Sally the Grief Gardener
There is great synergy between Sally the gardener and Sally the bereavement support nurse because Grief is Organic: It comes when it comes. It comes in waves and it comes in bursts and it needs to be nurtured. Grief gardeners do not cure the grieving; instead create conditions that allow the bereaved to mourn while providing nourishment, protection and comfort when grief threatens to overwhelm.
One spring morning a gardener noticed an unfamiliar seedling poking through the ground near the rocky, untended edge of his garden. He knelt to examine its first fragile leaves. Though he had cared for many others during his long life, the gardener was unsure what this new seedling was to become. Still, it looked forlorn and in need of his encouragement, so the gardener removed the largest stones near the seedling’s tender stalk and bathed it in rainwater from his worn tin watering can.
In the coming days the gardener watched the seedling struggle to live and grow in its new, sometimes hostile home. When weeds threatened to choke the seedling, he dug them out, careful not to disturb the seedling’s delicate roots. He spooned dark, rich compost around its base. One cold April night he even fashioned a special cover for the seedling from an old canning jar so that it would not freeze.
But the gardener also believed in the seedling’s natural capacity to adapt and survive. He did not water it too frequently. He did not stimulate its growth with chemicals. Nor did he succumb to the urge to lift the seedling from its unfriendly setting and transplant it in the rich, sheltered center of the garden. Instead the gardener watched and waited.
Day by day the seedling grew taller, stronger. Its slender yet sturdy stalk reached for the heavens and its blue-green leaves stretched to either side as if to welcome the gardener as he arrived each morning.
Soon a flower bud appeared atop the young plant’s stem. Then one warm June afternoon the tightly wrapped, purple-blue petals unfurled, revealing a paler blue ring of petals inside and a tiny bouquet of yellow stamens at its center.
A columbine-the gentle wildflower whose name means “dovelike.” A single, perfect columbine.
The gardener smiled. He knew then that the columbine would continue to grow and flourish, still needing his presence but no longer requiring the daily companionship it had during its tenuous early days.
The gardener crouched next to the lovely blossom and cupped its head in his rough palm. “Congratulations,” he whispered to the columbine. “You have not only survived, you have grown beautiful and strong.”
The gardener stood and turned to walk back to his gardening shed. Suddenly a gust of wind lifted his straw hat and as he bent to retrieve it, a small voice whispered back, “Without your help I could not have. Thank you.”
Grief is Organic –
Of course the seedling in this parable represents the bereaved. The seedling is struggling to live in its new, hostile environment much as a bereaved struggles to cope in the world without their loved one. A world that often does not understand the need to mourn.
They need love and attention if they are to heal and grow. It is the bereavement caregiver’s role to create conditions that allow for such healing and growth. In the parable, the gardener removes stones near the seedling’s tender stalk and offers it life-sustaining water. The gardener in the parable also dug out weeds that threatened to choke the young seedling;
But notice, too, that the gardener does not take complete control of the seedling’s existence, but rather trusts in the seedling’s inner capacity to heal and grow. The gardener does not water the seedling too frequently; The gardener does not transplant the seedling but instead allows it to struggle where it has landed; the grief gardener does not seek to rescue the bereaved from their pain but companions them on their path of growth.
Largely as a result of its own arduous work, the seedling grows into a beautiful columbine. Bereaved , with time and loving support, also have inside themselves the potential for this same kind of transformation. The greatest joy of grief gardening, in fact, is witnessing this growth and new beauty in the bereaved who have learned to reconcile their grief.
What an honor to garden in such rich soil.
Further Reading Understanding Grief