Life can be sad. Very sad. We have no control over when tragedy strikes. It might be bereavement, separation, illness, the loss of an important part of yourself.
We’re not very good at sadness. We try to tidy it up, or put it in a box, or cover it with laughter, or bury it.
The best book on sadness that I have read is Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.
In it, there is a illustration of the author when he is feeling sad:
And one of what he feels like inside:
That picture breaks my heart. But it also offers a tiny little glimmer of hope, because if it resonates with us, sadness is just a tiny bit less lonely.
Now there are little sadnesses in life, and there are great chasms of darkness. This is a book about those sorts of sadness.
Although this book is a picture book, it is as helpful for adults as for children. Maybe more so, since adults are terrible at being sad.
Young children know how to be sad. I remember my daughter laying necklaces and bracelets over the photo of a relative who had died. She was quiet and contemplative, very sad, but completely at ease. She was being authentic. The adults around her were rushing around pretending they were fine, looking on the bright side, being strong for one another, fearful of bursting into tears and making a spectacle of themselves.
This could be why gardening helps. You don’t have to put on a brave face for your vegetable plot. You are allowed to weep, whilst deadheading the roses.
There is also relief in activity. It helps to have a purpose, a reason to carry on. What better purpose than to grow food to feed yourself? To nurse yourself back to health. Try a little tray of salad leaves. You can buy cut-and-come-again salad mixes to sow at any time of the year. Save one of those single-use plastic trays from the supermarket, and re-purpose it as a seed tray. Keep it on the kitchen window-sill, and just snip a few leaves each day to add to a salad. If you enjoy this, move on to some edible flowers: calendula, cornflowers, nasturtium, borage. Try sowing dried peas: you will have delicious pea-shoots to pick and munch on too.
Or just grow flowers from the start. Flowers feed the soul.
In times of great sadness, we need to be kind. Sadness can make you angry, and you want to hit out. Michael Rosen takes it out on the cat. I think that this is one of the most touching pages of the book.
To offset this justified anger, we need to demonstrate to ourself that we are, despite everything, still a kind and nurturing being.
So sow some seeds. Just one packet.
This is about hope. There is something beyond this grief. There will be a day when this seed germinates, and there is life beyond this catastrophe. The catastrophe will still be there, but it will not fill your entire life. There will be a tiny little space in your life for a seedling. You might even choose to just ease it out of its seed-case, and watch the seed-leaves spring free.
Your twice-daily spritzing of seedlings with water might remind you that you have managed another day, despite this sadness, to survive.
Be warned that you will have to thin your seedlings, and there may be casualties when you prick them out. This is a lesson in resilience. Expect about a quarter of your gardening projects to fail. Slugs munch. Dogs trample. We get over-excited and plant out too early, before the last frost.
Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. Like life happens. You win some, you lose some. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. See? You are already a better gardener than you were a week ago. We all mistakes along the way. The important thing is that we trust ourselves to try again.
In and amongst the tragedies, there will be little joys. You will know the excitement of a curling root emerging from a seed, and then a leaf, and then more. You will feel the sun on your back. You will meet a robin, who will sing as you work. You will find your perfect spade.
You deserve some kindness now, some chance of little happinesses. When you are sad, sit with it a while. Pick yourself some flowers, and be with them, so you are not alone. We are all connected, and there will be others right now, sitting looking at their own flower, sitting with sadness.
Children move naturally between sadness and joy. There is no need for guilt. Feel sad, but allow yourself little moments of joy too.
If you would like any ideas about which seeds are easy to grow, see my earlier post Guilt-free pick-and-mix. If you don’t fancy growing seeds, try watching birds. See my earlier post, The Big Garden Birdwatch.
I would love to hear what has helped you get through sad times. Please leave comments below.