Thistle Talk on Difficult Days: Dealing with Grief and Loss

May 24, 2022

First thing Monday morning my husband headed to church to confront the nasty thistles invading the gardens. This has been and continues to be an ongoing battle, and one that will not be won today or tomorrow, but I admire his determination and commitment.

Thistles appear in our lives in many ways, and lately, thistles seem to be conducting on assault.

Daily, it seems, I hear news of family and friends challenged by serious health or economic concerns or the death of a loved one. Sunday morning, even before I was dressed, my husband showed me a post on Facebook about someone in our extended family who is experiencing hard times. We discussed ways to respond, but at the same time we can not make the basic problem disappear.

That’s a big thistle.

Thistles are prickly. They sting and their roots are deep. They don’t give up easily the places they’ve claimed in the garden. They tend to take over everything that has been loving and intentionally planted, and sometimes it is hard to see the growth, other than the unwanted thistle.

No one chooses a thistle. No one says, “Do we have room in the garden for a thistle?” Nope, they assert themselves without our consent or design.

So what do we do with these thistles?

Here’s what I am learning as a woman in her mid seventies: I have to leave room in my day for grieving, for feeling loss and sadness and sometimes shock. That means being even more intentional about my morning meditation time, which more and more means holding those in my heart who need tender care.

But I also have to leave room in my day for responding to those with tangible needs. Sometimes that means an in-person response –a meal, a visit, an offer to….–or it may mean a more distanced response, writing a note, sending a check, making sure others who need to know do, in fact, know.

Dealing with thistles takes energy, and I sometimes feel the toll encountering so many thistles takes on my spirit. I know that being present to the pain of others means I must be aware of my own feelings and what I am able to do at this stage of my life.

Doris Grumbach in her memoir The Pleasure of Their Company (2000,) which she wrote as she approached her 80th birthday, used the term, “lessening.”

I prefer lessening as both instruction and slogan for my old age.

page 50.

What that suggests to me in my life is choosing carefully, thinking wisely about how I use my energy, for one thing I know for sure: There will be more thistles.

Now is a good and necessary time to ask myself how many commitments are reasonable? What is the call in my life now and how can I respond? How do I best live my essence in this third chapter of my life? How do I create spaciousness in my life to be with the expected unexpected?

Two Thoughts for Reflection

The times are urgent; let us slow down.

African Saying

May you embrace this day, not just as any old day, but as this day. Your day. Held in trust by you, in a singular place, called now.

Carrie Newcomer

May your thistles not overwhelm your garden.

An Invitation

How do you respond to your thistles? I would love to know?

4 thoughts on “Thistle Talk on Difficult Days: Dealing with Grief and Loss

  1. Thank you for this. Yes, thistles seem abundant today and I appreciate the reminder of the importance of our quiet time and slowing down. I use the term “being rooted” in God. Blessings.


  2. Mostly I listen and offer prayers. If I can, provide a meal, or snacks and in-person visit. Hugs. Optimism even when I don’t feel it. Faith that the thistles in life will not take us down.


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