Green Gladness in Days of Grief

I sit on my back porch on a May evening and watch the hazy Moon rise over the forest. I count on Her rhythmic waxing and waning, beaming peace as the Earth bickers and burns.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks sing love songs from a nearby tree. We called Grosbeak males “Angel Voice.”  I count on their spring arrival, too.

Grey Catbirds feast on orange halves put out to lure Baltimore Orioles. I haven’t seen an Oriole, but Catbirds with their melodious song love oranges, too. My dense Forsythia hedge is their summer condominium beginning in May.

This morning, my local son Anthony and I drove to the Amish Countryside Market and bought flowers and vegetable plants, a spring plant buying ritual at a greenhouse I’d never visited. A black dressed Amish girl smiled shyly as she helped me. A young man grinned in the shade of his wide brimmed straw hat as he watered thirsty plants and answered questions.

“Bronze Fennel? It’s right over here. Marigolds are in the next greenhouse,” he said, walking me part way there. I found plants to eat and others to lure butterflies and bees, plus midnight blue Lobelia, yellow Violas, and coral Begonias for beauty. This afternoon, our watered plants are in the shade at my place, coddled until they acclimate to life outside the greenhouse. Lettuce, arugula, and snow peas already grow in my garden, promising enough to share.

No matter how beautiful the Moon and bird songs, how promising the spring plants, an ache comes when Lupines send up blossoms in the fields and the Bluebird female lays her eggs. Nature and I don’t forget that Vic died during this season of the Green Man, the Celtic God symbolizing rebirth and the green growth of spring.

I think of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The next morning, the dogs and I walk to the forest where Vic’s ashes are buried. I kiss the sun warmed stones of the cairn my sons and I built. Trillium and Gaywings bloom around my feet, reminding me I don’t have to grieve alone. There’s no shame in asking for support.

I send my friend Steve a text asking if he’ll walk to Vic’s cairn with me on June 3, Vic’s death date. Steve was with us those last days, fourteen years ago. He was there when I wept non-stop after Vic’s death, apologizing profusely for my tears.

“Your grief gives me permission to feel my grief,” Steve said. I still need to give myself permission, but my salty tears remind me of what I know: “This is the way love feels now.”

Steve responds immediately: “June 3! It’s on my calendar.”



At certain times of the year, do you miss those you love who no longer walk the earth? Do you create rituals to help you through lingering grief? Is it hard for you to ask for help from friends or family? (It’s always hard for me.)

For other posts about our friend Steve whom we met many years ago when he was in college and our son Anthony was a babe in my arms see A Word that Changes Everything. For a post about interviewing Vic (at Steve’s house) for Storycorps, see “Part of Living is Dying.”

  1. Dear Elaine,

    As I type, I’m listening to you interview Vic. Once again I’m blown away! As always, you write with such a beautiful pen. Thank you. I love your nature writing posts that record when each wildflower or woodland plant comes into season and where they grow. And when you write about your feathered visitors too, especially who’s nesting where and how the family are doing. These two excerpts opened my heart this afternoon, tears flow. The first is Vic’s response to that final question you posed for him at the end of the interview and the second one comes from a reply you gave to a comment you received on the post, “Part of Living is Dying.”

    “I never thought I could love anyone anything, as deeply as I love you,” he said as he looked into my eyes. “You are my Guru of Love.”

    “You’re pregnant with grief,” Lauren said soon after Vic died. “You’re going through labor. A new life will come.”

    Words fail me miserably. Steve sounds like he’s been an amazing friend throughout, such treasure in one’s life! And it’s good to hear that he’ll be with you next week on Vic’s death day to take that walk with you up to Vic’s cairn. Oh, how those beautiful lupines must bring you the sweetest joy and deepest sorrow at the same time. Joy and sorrow in both hands. May is such a merry month which holds the joy of my own wedding day too, alongside the death of my mother. Interestingly, my parents also got married in May with my mother dying three days before her 58th wedding anniversary. It’s always been and will remain I feel, my favourite month.

    Sending love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    • Dearest Deborah, I hadn’t listened to that whole interview for many years because hearing is hard and it brings up grief. I remember the light in the room and how weak Vic was. I remember how tender love hummed everywhere and how we knew he was dying and I would do anything to save him. Nothing in the interview was planned ahead. We just went for it and listening to those last few minutes made me sob for an hour which was much needed. I’m still crying this morning. The voices sounded alien to me because of the cochlear implant and Vic’s voice sounded deep and Underworld with all the high tones of his natural voice missing. I would not have known it was his voice if I hadn’t been there and didn’t remember the conversation.

      Many people loved me and stuck with me through that time, but Lauren was able to be with me almost every day after Vic’s death and join me on long walks. She has now moved far away, but we’re in touch every week. I was with her for the birth of her 2nd daughter and she was with us for Vic’s death, so those bonds are strong. Steve still lives 5 minutes from me and he’s been a constant and continuous friend for so long. When someone dies, it’s natural to shy away from talking about them all the time because friends might get “sick of hearing sadness” or so the ego says. Steve makes it clear he’s never sick of remembering Vic. They were close. Steve is loved by many, many people because of his kindness and willingness to help through rough times. He’s an uncle to both my sons.

      The Lupine flowering has begun and the birds are nesting. Yesterday, I found mice nesting in one of the boxes, but it was far from the house and I evicted them without hurting anyone, although unlike the birds, they were scared of me. Vic and I were married in May and my mother was born in May and her middle name was May. As the birds sing and romance each other, it’s a big month for love on the land, but Nature is not always kind. Of the 3 eggs laid by the Bluebird (they usually lay 4 or 5) only one hatched, so there the little one is in a nest with two blue eggs. The little one is well tended and fed by both parents, so one of their clutch will make it. So much tragedy in big ways in the world and in this violent country along with the catastrophes of nature. I’m grateful for the one plump little bluebird in these crushing times. Sending love and light back to you, dear poet. May the oceans heal and the caterpillars leave my oaks alone.

      • You and your last lines, brilliant! Elaine, thank you for your beautiful reply and update on how the Bluebird family is faring this season. I don’t know if you noticed but on the YouTube video (StoryCorps) there is a closed caption option if you wanted to read the transcript instead of listening. I’ve just played it for a few minutes to check and it even picks up your “uhms.” You remind me well how often at the end of a person’s life we focus so much of the partner and their children that sometimes we forget the devastation of losing a dear, loving friend. Where in the words of Jeanette Winterson, “This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it.” Despite its sorrows, I love the month of May and am always “glad” when the “greening” takes place, despite the “grief.”

        • I found the captions right away and without them would have missed most of what was said. With them, I focused on remembering the feelings of that interview–and how slowly we shared our love story. I love the quote from Jeanette Winterson. It’s new to me. I’m also glad at the greening time, and even as Vic was dying, I was grateful for Nature’s spring celebration. It insisted I remember the gifts of beauty and life.

  2. You have made wonderful choices for support: the moon beaming peace, a symphony of flowers, birdsong, your son Anthony, and friend Steve, who exclaims: “It’s on my calendar.”

    The spring ritual of visiting the cairn is coming up soon in June, which reminds me of a line I noted in Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet. She reflects on grief, “No matter how much your culture tells you to smile, it’s not human to simply move on. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t move forward.” I wonder what you think of that quote.

    It didn’t escape my notice that you visited the Amish Countryside Market. As soon as I click SEND here, I will browse there and reminisce. Thanks for another poignant post, Elaine. Hugs!

    • Thank you, Marian. It’s wonderful to have a lifetime friend like Steve. He’s family for me and my sons and many other friends. And, yes, the Lupines are starting to flower and next week will be the 14th anniversary of Vic’s death. I love Susan Cain’s reflection on grief. Our culture is mixed up in many ways, including how we deal with death (and violence). Why would we want to forget those we love? Other cultures honor those who have died and that feels right to me. I can love Vic every day, weep for him when I listen to the interview in the last blog I suggested, and still move on in life and become someone I wouldn’t have been if he were still here. I WANT to remember and feel supported by his love, not weakened.

      The Amish Countryside Market is A+. Friends told me about it years ago, but I didn’t realize how close it is to me (about a 20 minute drive). Since Covid, I rarely go to Ithaca and buy everything I can locally. Anthony had been to the market last year and loved it. It was fun going with him. The Amish and Mennonite people have large communities north of me and tend to keep to themselves, so I don’t have Amish friends. Occasionally Amish men build a house or barn in the neighborhood, but there is little social contact. I loved the sweet interactions with the families who run the market and take such beautiful care of their plants. I’ve never seen such tidy and orderly greenhouses. And they had everything! Even bronze fennel and reasonable prices. That’s where I’ll buy my plants every year.

  3. Your posts bring calm to me Elaine as I read imagining you visiting the nursery with your son and the helpers. As you select what to bring home for the birds and the coddling of them in the green house. The walk to Vic’s cairn and your honouring of this special place tinged as it is with sadness and grief. There is a calm and serenity in your act of kissing the stones inviting the Green Man. Balm to me – much needed in this troubled world.

    We recently had our garden completely re-done and overhauled with indigenous plants and flowers. We also used a large area for vegetables, and a smaller one for herbs. Those lettuce leaves are blooming. The soil was turned upside down and re-composted before the planting. This was 4-5 days work, done not by us but with a professional. We have to water every 2nd day which I do lovingly and willingly. I’m going away in a few days time so I’ll miss watching the progress of everything, – I’m hoping my husband will send me photographs – he’s staying behind! Orchids that I relocated from my home in Johannesburg are blooming! I’m amazed since up on the highveld they bloomed only in August.

    Yes, it’s hard to ask for help. Strange isn’t it. Good that you asked Steve; I love his reply. Thank you Elaine 🙂

    • The world is indeed troubled. We can’t get through a day in the USA without a mass murder. It’s horrifying and senseless. It feels like everyone has lost their sanity and I’m grateful for the calmness of home. The Amish nursery is wonderful and they also carry organic groceries year round, so I’ll return there many times. I used to travel a longer distance to go to town where I could volunteer at Hospice (not happening now) and do other shopping, but the Amish Market mixed with buying a few things online can provide all I need. This time of year, I love watching the birds and the female Tree Swallow has been especially friendly. I look forward to watching both parents feed the hatchlings in about a week. Fortunately the butterflies like flowers I enjoy, so when I plant flowers for them, I’m planting for myself. I always grow lots of salad vegetables and then replant through the season for tender salads.

      Your garden sounds well designed and full of potential. Are the orchids inside or out? Orchids are only inside here, but you have a different climate. One reason I’ve stayed in my home is, even though I’m in the country, I have close friends within a few miles, including one of my sons now. The man who has helped me since Vic got sick had shoulder surgery for the 2nd time, so I have to ask my son to do more than before. He has a full time job and his own home and gardens to care for, but he’s stepping in to do tractor work and take care of my trails. So, I’m learning to ask for help!

      How’s that little grandson doing? I hope you see him often.

      How exciting

  4. You know for sure, dear Elaine, that I Have the same feelings. Especially when the date of leaving comes nearer, and these certain days in which we accompanied our beloved ones towards the light. And I am glad you have a dear company on this very day. Blessing.

    • Thank you, Aladin. I’m glad I have good friends who loved Vic, too, and we can tell stories about him to each other, cry and laugh. If you haven’t listened to the interview I did of Vic a few months before his death called “Part of Living is Dying,” I think it would be meaningful to you. It was powerful for me to listen to it again even though I remembered so much about it and had heard it many times before. But I hadn’t heard it recently. Here’s the link.

  5. I think it’s amazing how rapidly captions and now transcripts have made videos and lectures and masterclasses available, where before we would have struggled. It’s almost as if the Universe is wrapping us all up, drawing us together so we can learn from one another.

    I have been a fan of native plants for over a decade, or even longer, and made every mistake in the book when creating pollinator patch, but it’s so fun to find volunteers in the lawn or in crevices or other empty spaces. People think it looks weedy but I can see what it will become, if it is just allowed to. I’m calmly ignoring rules about mowing the lawn, after seeing articles about No-Mow May, to help pollinators, and daring the city to cite me for having longer grass. And those markets… we have dozens of them, literally one every day of the week in some part of the metro or other. He and I would go every Saturday and Sunday morning to one or another, and it became our morning ritual to just look and get to know other people. After he was gone, going to any of the markets when they opened in the spring was impossible at first. It took a long time for the pain to recede enough to go again. I suppose it will always sting a little.

    • I have a harder time with the captioned world because of Meniere’s vertigo, but I can handle it for short periods. I can’t relax and just enjoy unfortunately. Still I’m grateful for the many things available with captions even though I’d rather read a book.

      I’ve also been a native plant fan for decades, partly because that’s what grows naturally on my land without me doing a thing. We added a few patches of northeast wildflower mix, but the only thing that did well was lupines and they’ve done very well. Black-eyed Susans? There are only a few and I thought they would be easier. I love each volunteer. This year I got a huge carmine Columbine–and I haven’t planted Columbine for more than a decade. Hello! Who brought you here? I mow paths through the fields because of ticks, but 99% of my fields are unmowed. And, yes, I imagine the sting of loss will remain for me, too, as a reminder of abiding love. It will be 14 years on Friday.

      Both my sons are gardeners, so my local son was my shopping companion at the Amish market. I still have many plants to put in at the end of this week when the weather cools. They’re outside in half-day sun now where it’s easy to water them. Milkweed is up so I watch for the first Monarch. I’ve seen Swallowtails. It’s a joyful green time of year. Wishing you well, Joe. It’s nice hearing from you.

  6. Dear Elaine, You always come up with titles for your posts that draw me in and appeal to my imagination, and this one is no exception. I wanted to respond to this post today, since I know it is the day that you and Steve will be walking to Vic’s cairn together, weeping as you also soak in the green gladness. I know the beauty of Trillium in our woods but am not familiar with Gaywings, so looked up images of the lovely purple flowers surrounding the cairn.

    In reading the Daily Good (from May 24), which is how I first discovered you, Elaine, I came across this passage in a piece titled, “Surrendering and Opening to Hope in Times of Crisis,” about Anna-Zoë Herr:

    When Zoë’s father passed four years ago, she grappled with almost unbearable pain and grief and was finding it difficult to find hope. One night, she had a dream in which her father appeared, sitting opposite her. “I came back because you have a question for me,” he said. Zoë was taken aback and then said quickly, “Yes, I do. How do I overcome your death?”
    “You don’t overcome my death,” her father replied. “You just love.”

    And as a friend wrote to me this week about her journey, “There are so many ways to love the world.”

    It is hard for me to ask for help, but it is one of the things that I am getting better at. Both aging and living with a chronic illness necessitate my needing more help, and I am realizing that accepting help gracefully is another way to love the world. Thank you, Elaine, for continuing to be my wise teacher.

    • Dear Anne, Steve and I walked to the cairn yesterday with my younger son Anthony. Steve brought a peony from his garden and I picked lupines on the way to the forest. It was a gorgeous day. We shared a little poetry, but mostly stories, all told before but always welcome. Steve’s about the first time he met Vic when Vic was a professor and Steve was a junior in college and Anthony about Vic building a skateboard ramp with Anthony when Vic was discouraged and depressed about receiving many rejections as he tried to shift from physics writing to physics, philosophy and psychology. (Vic didn’t give up and eventually his papers were accepted in the Jungian world.) There was less weeping than I imagined and more laughter. We also saw the first Monarch of the season on our way home.

      I love the answer Zoe received. There’s nothing to overcome and most cultures know it’s important to honor the ancestors. Somehow we forgot and grief became shameful. When I walk on my land, I use trails Vic and I created together or ones he created with our sons. He made beauty on this land.

      My dream therapist and I often discuss learning to ask for help and acceptance of the changes of aging (for me the major issues are hearing and vertigo) and I constantly come up against my mother’s efforts to hide memory loss and issues of aging–and how I internalized her shame. This is a constant learning practice, so I try to notice when that complex arises with my negative opinions about becoming less resilient, needing more rest, and all the rest. We’re in this together, Anne, so I don’t feel like much of a teacher. May we love the world and ourselves. Blessed day to you. It’s glorious here today.I looked for 30 minutes and didn’t find one Monarch egg. Maybe that one passing through was a guy. (I’m glad you found the gaywing. They are cute.)

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