Grief and Gardening

When I was out weeding earlier, it dawned on me that grief and gardening have something in common. With gardening, you have to concentrate solely on what is within arm’s reach. If you think of the whole yard as a single entity, you’d never get anything done because the totality of the work involved is immense, more than one mind can hold. So the only way to get a yard or garden the way you want is to do what you can when you can and hope that someday the whole will be worth it.

That’s pretty much the same as grief, though with grief, you also have to deal with a whole lot of pain and trauma and sorrow. The totality of the loss and the pain is beyond the comprehension of most of us, so all we can do is concentrate on each day, each hour, sometimes even each minute. As with a garden, you can only hope that there is something at the end of all the grief work you’re doing that will be worth it.

Nothing, of course, will ever be commensurate with the death of that one person who was intrinsic to your life, but there needs to be the hope that someday, somehow, you will find a new way of being — of being you alone, not you as half of a couple.

It’s a long time coming, that hope. For years, most of us can’t even imagine having any sort of hope, and yet we get up each day, survive each minute the best we can, deal with all the tasks that can’t be put off. That all of this is accompanied by tears or anger or screaming or any of the other ways we have of dealing with the pain and stress of grief doesn’t mitigate the hope that getting up each day signifies. Even if we don’t feel hopeful, the mere act of living shows hope. A rather despairing sort of hope, to be sure, but hope nonetheless.

It’s only in retrospect that I can see the bigger picture of grief. For a very long time, all I had were the small increments, though over the years, the increments did expand from seconds and minutes to hours and days, and finally to years. And now I am in a place where I have a house and yard and garden and thoughts of bigger pictures.

I can’t say that that all the grief work was worth it to get me here because while the work of a garden might be worth it, “worth it” is meaningless when it comes to grief. Once I lived a shared life and now I don’t. In the end, after years of pain and sorrow and grief, that might be all it comes down to.

But I am here. And I am surviving on my own. That has to mean something.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

8 Responses to “Grief and Gardening”

  1. Uthayanan Says:

    Thanks Pat for your post Fearfulness and Grief. Very interesting and helpful because I am struggling with fourth year more confused than third year. Last 40 months I have completely stopped gardening but keep alive all the plants loved by my wife. And maintain our two composters. I am living in the same place sleeping in the same bed cooking with the kitchen which was equipped Specially for her. It is strange with pandemic living in the same place give me lots of strength and the same time lot of pain. I am sure with the present situation running away from this place never going to help me.
    I feel you do very well with your gardening and hope it will going to help your moral and physical strength. Later for me too.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I was glad to leave our home because I couldn’t handle the constant reminders, but now, after all these years, I think I would have found it comforting to be in the same place. Maybe it will be the same for you.

      • Uthayanan Says:

        Thanks Pat. It helped me at least morally and practically stayed in a place that I know for more than 25 years. As I said I am still very much confused about my life and very much shell shocked. This is not our appartement (with underground parking) and very big for me to live alone. First I wanted to run away to Iceland or Japan for one year but the administrative procedures and all our plants and our books (nearly 2000 or more still I have no force to count) stopped me. After pandemic stopped me.
        Happily something inside in my head thought me don’t take any big decision and to throw out anything until you have a situation forced to leave.
        From tomorrow I am going to discuss this Matter with a family person very important and the only person in her family I can believe with and of course you Pat.
        I don’t know I am still very weak to decide an important matter.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Definitely don’t decide on important matters until you are ready! People sometimes make catastrophic decisions when they are grieving. One woman I know ended up almost losing her house because of bad decisions.

  2. Estragon Says:

    A friend of a friend is a widow who downsized soon after, and is happy to have done so for the same reason (constant reminders). OTOH, I know of others who do find it comforting to be in the same place when so much else seems so strange. I can see both points of view, so for now I’m procrastinating. I wait, but for something I can’t (yet) explain. Staying is a sort of decision in itself, but it could also be that I’m going… just very slowly.

    In order to stay (for now), I’ve had to do some weeding, both literal and figurative. Beds formerly filled with annuals are prone to takeover by weeds, hence the literal weeding. I’ve planted a few things, but a lot lays fallow. The figurative was/is the packing up of decorative items, clothing, etc., rearranging the remainder, and generally making the place somewhat more “mine”, less “ours” – all still a work in progress.

    Whether I stay or go, time will pass and weeds will grow. In the end it might be a question of whether I’m up for continuing to pull them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I honestly don’t know what I would have done if we had owned the house. Stay there, I suppose, though it wouldn’t have been ideal for an older woman living alone since it was so far out in the country and I was surrounded by hostile neighbors. In any case, I had no choice but to leave. After Jeff died, the landlord evicted me. I suppose I could have fought the eviction because they had no grounds, but by then, my dad needed someone to help out. Interestingly, most of the people I know who were left behind to live alone eventually moved.

      • Estragon Says:

        I suspect you’re right. I’ll eventually move, but without the benefit of landlords, hostile neighbors, or family in need of me.

  3. Joe Says:

    Estragon wrote, “Staying is a sort of decision in itself, but it could also be that I’m going… just very slowly.”

    That’s exactly how I feel and precisely where I am, as well. Thanks for articulating that. It helps put things in perspective.

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