Gardening in a Time of Grief

Today we’re welcoming a guest blogger, Mary Walsh, whose dad sadly died recently. This Mental Health Awareness Week we’re grateful to Mary for encouraging us to focus on allowing ourselves to grieve in the ways that feel right for us – and for Mary, in nature.

“I lost my dad a few weeks ago.  It wasn’t exactly unexpected but it still came as a jolt in the end. A diagnosis in March, a few weeks to get used to it, and then gone.  At 87, I can trot out the clichés that he’d had a good innings, I wouldn’t have wanted him to suffer, it was a mercy.  They are clichés for a reason, they are true.  I am forever grateful that in these times of lockdown and virus, my dad was able to come back to the place he’d called home for nearly 60 years, spend one last weekend in spring sunshine in his beloved garden and say goodbye to his family.  It was my greatest fear when the restrictions began that he wouldn’t get that chance.  There are reasons to be grateful wherever you look.

The circumstances though were entirely alien to every other bereavement I’d experienced. There would be no visitors to the house, no church gathering, no lunch with friends.  There would be an absence of hugs.  Things I’d done with friends after they lost parents, the cups of tea, the walks, the pub, were all denied.  I was restless.  I couldn’t sit still but I didn’t have enough energy to summon up for a work-out or a once-a-day long walk.  The only place that seemed to make sense was the garden.

I’ve always found comfort in nature.  I know that if I’m feeling stressed I need to get outside under a big sky to find perspective.  So it should of course have been logical that the garden could provide the comfort.  Fresh air, good for the soul.  It gave me just the right level of physical exertion, movement but without an exhaustive effort.  A patch of brambles that had been allowed to dominate all else became a project.  The clip clip clip of secateurs the gentle backdrop to my grief.  Quiet enough to be contemplative, enough time to process thoughts that came and went.

And it seemed like an appropriate place to be.  My dad was a nature-lover, instilling it in his children from a young age.  He loved his garden.  It was the place you would find him on any fair day, cutting hedges, mowing lawns, weeding beds.  It was his own form of wellbeing maintenance.  I didn’t understand it for a long time.  But now I get it.  Now I see why the connection to nature mattered so much.  It takes the stresses of life and dissipates it back to the world.  Gently and without judgement.

And so too with grief.  In the eerie unfamiliarity of lockdown when ’normal’ practices of grief were off limits, being outside with my brambles just made sense of it all.  Springtime abundance the pointer that no two days are the same.  A gentle reminder that the world keeps turning, life goes on.  On dad’s last weekend at home, we were able to enjoy one last lunch in the sunshine, cherry blossoms in full bloom.  Within a week they were gone.  And now too are my pesky brambles.  When lockdown finishes I will bring to the dump a trailer of clippings and grief.

In the absence of our normal rituals, I created my own and found comfort in nature, my own church.  As we navigate these strange days with restrictions of some sort set to surround us for time to come, I won’t pretend to have the answers for adaptation.  I offer only my own experience that taking time in nature, connecting to the earth, helped me to make some sense of it all and feel part of something bigger than myself.”

Mary Walsh is a business consultant and coach from Northern Ireland who documents adventures in nature on Instagram @wellderness

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