Gardening to Work Through Grief

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BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
PUBLICATION: About Grief

​Spring is often the time we plan our garden. We prepare the soil with tender loving care and hope to see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor later in the summer. Change is one of the constants in the world of plants. Nature has a way of surprising us with variety. No two leaves on a plant are alike and we can be sure that this year's growing season will be different than last year's.

We can see many parallels between grief and gardening. Gardening can help us work through the grief and loss in our lives. We can learn to take care of ourselves as we take care of our gardens. Nourishment in the form of water, sunlight and fertilizer is crucial for growth, while pruning and weeding is necessary for full plant development. 

We can gain insight from planting; watering, pruning and watching plants grow. We notice that right next to a long-dead tree trunk in a quiet corner of the garden is a young sapling.  This reminds us that life continues in the face of death, and regeneration makes the world vibrant. The gardener waits for the beauty of the bloom; the grieving anticipate the return of the beautiful memories.
When a plant loses a major limb, it channels energy inward to heal. This energy is taken all the way down to the roots. This process takes time, but in time new buds appear. When we grieve the death of a loved one, the journey can take time before new growth and creativity occurs.

Many of our families have created memorial gardens. Despite the sweat and hard work that goes into gardening, the ritual of attending to new plants and watching them grow is comforting. Some of the gardens are elaborate - with stepping stones, pathways and waterfalls. Other families use simple pots or containers. While grieving the death of a loved one, many find peace and tranquility in their garden.

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