Gardening through Grief

Spring FlowersLately I find myself wishing that winter would be over, and spring would hurry up and get here. Grief is tough enough without being cooped up inside my house all winter long. There is something to be said about the birds chirping and flowers blooming every year. Spring allows me to open my windows and let the fresh air in, say “Hi” to the neighbors that I haven’t seen all winter (unless we were out shoveling).  I‘ve been anxiously waiting to see if my tulips and daffodils made it through this long Wisconsin winter.

I want to share with you an article I read on this very topic written by Robert Zucker:

We often think of grieving as something that happens to us. But have you thought lately about how you grieve by doing? There may be some particular things that you’ve been doing that have been helpful and healing on your grief journey.

For instance, I remember talking to a woman after her mother died. She told me how worried she was about her father because he wasn’t expressing any grief. Her parents, she explained, were very close and always did everything together. Everyone always said they were like two peas in a pod. She could only imagine how devastated her father must be since her death, but he wasn’t talking about his feelings much at all, and he wasn’t showing a lot of emotions, either.

I asked her what he was doing and she told me he was spending a whole lot of time out in his garden, doing the spring clean-up, planning and starting to prepare the vegetable garden, planting annuals in the front and back yard, and setting up new flower beds in a sunny spot along one side of the house. After putting in a long day outdoors, he ate a big meal, went to bed early, and seemed to wake up rested and ready for another day of gardening. It seemed to her that he was completely avoiding his grief by staying so busy.

I asked her to tell me a little more about her dad. He was a quiet man, she said, who did not typically show his emotions. “He and mom loved to garden together,” she told me. “Dad always loved the outdoors and enjoyed planting things in the ground, harvesting a crop and bringing fresh bouquets and vegetables to his friends and family.”

As we talked, I wondered aloud if, perhaps, her dad’s garden was a safe haven for him, a place where he could grieve in his own way. Maybe digging a garden brought him closer to his wife, and helped him feel more connected to the seasons of life.

Later, she told me that she’d begun looking a little differently at her dad. She started admiring him for being so steady and resilient.Gardening, she realized, was an expression of her dad’s hope and faith in the face of his devastating loss.

A final thought: As spring slowly approaches and the days grow longer and longer, it won’t be too long before we cast aside our heavy winter gear and songbirds fill the morning air with their glorious music. Of course, as you grieve, you may find yourself out of sync with any talk of springtime, hope and renewal. This would be normal. But as the earth begins to thaw and the natural world starts its annual turning, this may be a time to reflect on what you have been doing to foster your own personal transformation as you continue on your grief journey.


About Dawn Rehrauer

Dawn is a Bereavement Counselor, and co-founder of Grief Relief, at Agnesian HealthCare. She has been working in this area for five years. She is passionate about helping those that have lost a significant person in their lives through their grieving process. Dawn can be reached by emailing

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