Finding a Focus After Grief

Not everyone enjoys my gardening posts, especially those who have found this blog because of grief, and that’s understandable, but the truth is, almost all my posts, even the gardening posts, are indirectly related to grief.

The past twelve years, particularly the past five when the pain of Jeff’s death pretty much disappeared, have been about finding a focus outside myself, about making myself . . . bigger. Becoming more.

When you’re connected to someone in an intrinsic way, such as Jeff and I were, almost by definition, you’re bigger than just yourself. You’re part of a twosome, working together to create a life for yourselves. Your combined energy expands each of you beyond your life into something more than either of you would be individually.

When one half of a couple dies, the one left behind feels diminished. No longer part of a couple, you shrink back to yourself, and it simply doesn’t seem to be enough. At least that’s the way it was for me. At the beginning, my grief was so all-encompassing, my pain so great, my shock at how his death made me feel so intense, that it masked the feeling of smallness. Oddly, when my grief began to dissipate, I started to grieve for my grief because as it turned out, grief was something more, something beyond merely me.

And then one day, there I was . . . just me. No Jeff, no grief, no more grappling with the idea of death, no more feeling the winds of eternity in my face.

And it didn’t seem enough. I didn’t seem enough.

If I hadn’t had that connection to another human being for so many years, I might not have noticed that lack of “enoughness,” though come to think of it, before I met Jeff, I struggled with the meaning of life and was often plagued by thoughts of “is this all there is?” It wasn’t until after he died, and I had shrunk back into myself, that those thoughts returned. I missed Jeff, of course, missed our shared life, but as those memories fade somewhat, what I missed even more is being part of something bigger than myself.

Time has passed, as it does, and now I’m used to being merely me, but I still need to focus on something other than myself, to focus on something outside of myself.

Over the years, that focus has changed — from dance, to travel, to home ownership, to gardening — but always, it’s the act of focusing rather than the focal point that is important. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, creates a semblance of meaning, lends a sense of “something more” to my life.

So yes, my posts often talk about gardening or my lawn or my house or the improvements I’ve made to the property because that’s what I’m focusing on. As I age, chances are my focus will become more about health issues or finding ways to do things that have become hard to do or maybe even just the weather because in an age-restricted life, weather is about the only thing outside one’s self that changes.

But even those posts, whatever they might be (assuming, of course, I am still writing) will be indirectly related to grief because if Jeff were still here, none of this would be relevant.

But he isn’t here, and I am. So I need something to focus on. For now, that focus is gardening.


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 “Finding a Focus After Grief”

  1. Judy C Galyon Says:

    I understand where you’re coming from. I am STARTING to take an interest in certain things in the yard, but the weather i working against me. Maybe when the weather cooperates I will get a couple of things done.

  2. annemariedemyen Says:

    I still have my husband, but I have made gardening (and nature in general) a big party of my life since my retirement. It fills that space in my life that I left behind.

  3. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    Gardening is both a creative endeavour and a nurturing one. For those who like to design, establish and maintain a garden there comes a satisfaction in seeing it develop because of our nurturing. If we have lived with someone who has required our care and now no longer does, it makes sense that we might discover a new kind of fulfillment in the act of gardening. The care that shows in your garden says a lot about the wonderful care you previously provided to Jeff. I suspect you were both blessed by your ‘focus’ at that time.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I hadn’t considered my new penchant for gardening in that regard, but I tend to think you’re right. I’d never considered myself a nurturer, but the truth is, I am.

  4. charlesdavis Says:

    It’s certainly true that after the death of a spouse, you begin to examine who you are—not only as someone without the person who has anchored you for many years, but as an individual. I found it a time for new beginnings and reinvention.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      For me, the reinvention didn’t start until after the pain had dissipated, but even during those first months and years, I tried to figure out who/what/how I wanted to be.

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