Sitting with sadness

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.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. karenwoodall says:

    Reblogged this on Karen Woodall and commented:
    I first came across the Mindful Gardner Blog last week and was entranced by the pleasure of the pictures, the words and the concepts of simply being with the natural world. Living in London, I have only a small balcony to grow plants and flowers and coming from the countryside, a garden is one of the things I miss the most.

    I miss the cold March air on my face as I set the seeds for the year ahead.

    And the warm April sunshine as I sit with coffee watching the first bees doing their work.

    And the baking heat of the midsummer day when the garden is a riot of colour and the voices of the plants are singing in perfect harmony.

    I miss the longer shadows of the late summer evening, when the loudest of the plants are quietening down and the luminous purples of the bee plants are set against the twilight.

    And the ritual picking and packing down of the harvest and the thanks giving in my heart for the joy the garden has given me.

    All of those things I miss and will have again there is no doubt. But each of those things took me into the absolute moment of my living, which in turn brought (and will bring) alignment with life and healing.

    This beautiful blog brings it alive for me, in the year when we are going to find grace in waiting and peace and even joy, I hope you find all of these things in this writing and more. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali says:

      These are beautiful words and images. These are exactly the reasons I garden. It is a sense of peace, purpose, fulfilment, fully inhabiting a space and being at one with the world.


  2. CG says:

    Today was a sad day, caused by the death of a close family member. As I read this blog I remembered that several years ago, when a close work colleague had lost her husband to cancer at an all too young age, I bought her bulbs, and encouraged her to grow them with the comment that when the flowers bloomed, time would have passed, and the raw pain would perhaps have eased a little. It was just so, and every now and again, after ten years, we have that conversation again and she tells me that when the flowers bloomed, whilst she still felt sad, she could feel the difference. So I’ll plant something tomorrow for my Dad, and wait for spring to come.

    I too came here via the same route as the previous comment, so will plant seeds for another (hopefully only temporarily) lost soul too.

    Thank you x


  3. Ali says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, CG. It is not too late to plant tulips, or any bare-root tree or shrub. And I really like the concept of seeds for the temporarily lost soul. Please take care of yourself. Xxx


  4. Amiga Nueva! What a lovely blog you have, tended with the same love and attention that you give your garden! It will be a joy to take peeks at your world, your flowers and bask in your wisdom! Great post, btw!


    1. Ali says:

      Thank you so much for those kind words. It is wonderful to share it with you.


  5. bcparkison says:

    Some sadness never goes away …it just grows dim.


  6. Ali says:

    Yes. And we owe it to ourselves to be sad. ❤️❤️❤️


  7. I don’t have anything major to be sad about at the moment fortunately but I am definitely going to sow some seeds anyway. I’ve never done seeds up to now – too much faff I thought – but I cant see that it is a must. I’m missing a lot. Thanks for a very moving blog.


  8. Ali says:

    Thank you! I’m really pleased! Sowing seeds is such good fun.


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