Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Garlic Grits

In a passage in American Pie, Michael Lee West says, “Some people don’t know grief from garlic grits.” This puts me in a dilemma. I know what she means, but I like garlic grits.

She means that people who have never experienced grief don’t know how it looks, how it feels like, or how overwhelming it is. You do not mistake grief for anything else.

Grief is the neon light that flashes all night outside the window of the motel you’re stuck in.

So many people don’t know the chaos that the death of someone close creates. A lot of people don’t know what grits look like.

On the other hand, grief should be like garlic grits. Everyday life with a zing! There’s enough grief running through people around us that everyone should be familiar with the landscape of grief and we should be talking about the differences. We should be sharing what is punctuating our day with exclamations. But we don’t talk about grief in our society. It’s like we’re ashamed that someone died. We’re lost as soon as we step into grief’s wilderness and have no idea what we are supposed to do or how we going to make our way through.

A few ruminations.

To make grits, you take corn and treat it with alkali. Native Peoples used the alkali of wood ash to do this. (Some used a mild soaking in lye or lime.) This is what grief does with our lives, especially the part about being submerged in a foreign substance and the part about the ashes.

The alkali of grief removes our protective hulls, leaving us vulnerable and naked.

Surprisingly enough, this treatment of alkali makes the corn more nutritious because the corn by itself lacks some important amino acids, and the treatment adds calcium and helps with the absorption of niacin.

In similar fashion, grief makes people more whole, because we understand one of the core experiences of human existence that we were missing before. Our lives move deeper, expand wider, and we realize how valuable every day of life is. Grief should be an accepted part of life.

Those who walk the mysterious path of grief should be honored by the rest of us, because the path is hard and this initiation takes them into sacred space.

Sharing grief with the uninitiated is like trying to brown grits. It can’t be done. I tried. After an hour, I gave up. And you can’t make grief palatable to the uninitiated by adding butter and salt.

Many of my friends liked the first post I put on Facebook about grief. A few of them liked the second and thirds posts. I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t experienced grief has appreciated my posts since then.

Grits taste good, even without browning. They are nutritious for the soul.

Related Post


  1. Thank you, Mark. After we've once experienced a major loss, it seems that grief is everywhere. A friend's wife dies or a child is diagnosed with cancer or someone my age begins to lose their memory. It astounds me that, after a few years, I was able to put my dad's death out of my mind when living in a house where thoughts and memories of him were banished. But they were waiting in the great unconscious sea for the next big loss. Then I had the chance to grieve for my dad all over again. I won't forget.

  2. I've had one big loss, Elaine, and I think I've grieved it fully, but I wonder what will happen when one of my parents dies.