Grounding Each Other Through Grief

by Rev. Molly Bolton

Trigger Warning: pregnancy/infant loss

My friend told me a story of a man who was wailing in grief and how his spiritual elders gathered around him to press soil into his hands. They were grounding him to the earth while sorrow ripped through this body.

I have known the depths of staggering sorrow recently; going into preterm labor with my twins during Advent last year. River and Wren were born too early to remain in this space-time continuum for more than a moment.

As a chaplain and a spiritual director, it has been strange to wade through the swamp of grief, watching myself muddle through what I have accompanied others through. In spiritual care, we often speak of normalizing the strangeness of grief — Burst into tears in the tiny auto shop lobby? Normal. Marathon-watch all 8 seasons of Are you the One? Normal. Throw the Italian dressing out the front door after being unable to open that fiddly plastic tab? Normal.

This ability to watch myself move through grief and normalize it has helped me feel somewhat tethered to reality. I can feel my body-mind-spirit grappling for equilibrium. But mostly, it has been the beloved community who has kept me from floating off. In my Pregnancy and Infant Loss Grief Group, we talk about being surprised by who is able to accompany us in our sorrow.

I think of my hairstylist who helped me figure out how to do my hair when, postpartum, I started losing it in handfuls; the Zumba instructor at the Community Rec Center who made me feel safe to move my body with joy again; the gentle funeral home director who cared for our babies’ remains free of charge; the friend from years ago sending a book of poems.

Those first few nights when I was home from the hospital, a wounded, bleeding creature; my partner, bone-weary and traumatized, our cat would wedge her small, soft body between us. She would purr and purr until she shushed us to sleep.

I could write a mile-long litany of thanks for the little ways beloveds show up for me, soil pressed into my hands, grounding me to Earth. We are here with you, say friends and strangers, say purring cat and the mountain wind wailing her own song.

A couple of friends, who were going through their own seasons of loss or depression, reached out to apologize for not being able to show up for me how they would like. I felt relieved that they were honoring their own capacity because I was doing the same. Sometimes this life sears us so badly, it’s all we can do to get out of bed.

Every Advent when I was growing up, my family would see the local theater’s production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. My city’s version of the musical included a wise angel in a glittery robe singing the gospel song “Ordinary People” over a young shepherd who was worried about what gift to bring baby Jesus. The angel’s rich voice refrained: “little becomes much as you place it in the [Spirit’s] hands”.

So let us praise the little.
The ordinary ways we show up for one another.
The everyday honoring of our own capacity.

Let us place our hands on our hearts and breath in that, in a world where grief weighs on us like a stone, this can be enough:

The phone call. The haircut. The loaf of bread on the doorstep. The herbal tea in the mail. The folded up poem. The slow walk through the neighborhood. The staying in bed. The text message holding the names of the loves we have lost — earth pressed into our hands.

For are ordinary moments of care not the very fiber of the Sacred Web of Interdependence?

May your Little be blessed to The Much, beloveds.

Rev. Molly Bolton (she/they) is a spiritual director, hospital chaplain, and poet who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her partner and a tuxedo cat. She engages poetry as a tool for liberative spiritual care in clinical, ecclesiastical, and community settings.

Molly holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest School of Divinity and a Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She was trained as a chaplain at Cleveland Clinic and is ordained in the United Church of Christ.

Hikes with stream crossings, feminist romance novels, and porch-sits with beloveds are a few of their favorite things. Find them at and on insta @mjbolton.

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