Grieving As Healing

Grief is an often-overlooked healing process. Healing cannot occur until we allow ourselves space to grieve and mourn our loss, suffering, and trauma. While grief is most often connected to the loss of a loved one, racial induced trauma also causes grief regardless of the proximity to the victim or community. When Black death is sanctioned by the state, community members grieve the unjust systems that cause oppression, mourn the loss of black life and death, and fear for their own safety and survival. Additionally, not only is grief often overlooked, it is also considered taboo in many cultures to grieve publicly, especially for Black people and poor people who are taught to be strong, avoid therapy, and hide emotions for fear of being excluded from dominant circles. Despite cultural avoidance of public grief, researchers suggest that when people are offered a safe space to grieve using multiple modalities, that healing can and does occur. Considering we have lost more than 400,000 US Americans to Covid-19, it is imperative that we find accessible ways to heal our communities.

The Grief Garden

1. The grief garden can exist as both a permanent garden and a mobile experience with several activities that can be done in isolation at any moment or in a group setting, optimizing potential visits.

2. There should be several permanent stations marked strategically by furniture, structures, plants, or other materials. For instance, perennials native to the local landscape should populate the garden and symbolize death, rebirth, and transformation.

3. For uniformity, a Reflection Labyrinth consisting of rocks and plants should be the focal point of the garden and placed in the center to serve as a space where people can reflect.

4. Benches should be placed throughout the labyrinth to encourage silent reflection. The rocks that eventually populate the labyrinth should be customizable and placed at a nearby paint station where visitors have a chance to paint the names of loved ones or experiences they are grieving. After people paint the rocks, they should leave them in the labyrinth to encourage reflection.

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Three Areas Should Span From The Labyrinth
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The Chime Wall

The chime wall has multiple bells and chimes attached to a fence or wall-like structure. Each bell or chime should have a laminated piece of paper attached with a common action that occurs when someone dies written on it. The idea is that if a person has engaged in one of the actions listed on a bell or chime, they are instructed to ring it. As people ring the bells together, the sounds symbolize that people are not alone in their grieving. Actions include things that happen when someone experiences grief, plans a funeral, or engages in activism around racial justice. For example, washing tear gas out of someone’s eyes with milk, choosing a home going outfit, writing a eulogy, or being unable to get out of bed due to depression and anxiety.

Sound Booth

Located in a different corner should be the Sound Booth, or a soundproof booth where people can go inside to scream, leave a message for a loved one, or make a wish for the future. This element creates a discursive site to grieve without disturbing other garden goers.

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The Memorial

The Memorial, similar to this image depicting the Little Rock Nine, should be located in another section that houses a commissioned piece of art that symbolizes transformation and healing, but is also connected to the specific history of the community. The community should hire a local artist, preferably a person who has experienced the injustice and community history directly, to commission the piece.

There should also be designated spaces for intimacy or isolation located throughout the garden. These spaces should be clearly marked by furniture and signage. If someone needs a hug or has a hug to give, they can sit in the designated intimacy spot. Likewise, if someone wants to be completely left alone, they can sit in the designated isolation spot.

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Our goal is to build the first grief garden in St. Louis, MO, with help from grant funds, philanthropic institutions, and in-kind donations by landscape architects, horticulture therapists, and master gardeners. Thus far, we have established relationships with required community partners and secured 1/3 of the grant funding required to build the first garden. We are currently in the process of choosing a space, which is exciting for our organization! It is our hope that The Grief Garden will serve as a safe, public, green space to grieve and mourn injustices via various interactive and engaging activities and experiences designed to promote healing, dialogue, and change. If you want to donate, build your own garden, or get involved, please do not hesitate to Contact Us or donate via our GoFundMe.