In a grief group, a bereaved woman frequently asked, “How long does grief last?” As the group facilitator, I felt my anxiety increase, as I knew and was hesitant in sharing the answer. Answers from others attending the group included, “a year or two from now it will be better, follow the steps and it will go away,” another added, “when you die.” That last response was a gut punch to the group. They all turned and looked at me, the “expert.”
The answer to that question is complicated. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any significant loss, whether that is a bereavement loss or a non-death loss. Immediately after a death, we experience strong feelings of yearning, longing, sorrow, and other painful emotions. As we begin adapting to the loss and integrating it into our lives, we carry that grief with us, always, yet it does not dominate our lives. Mourning and grieving allow us the time and space to learn to carry that loss with us in our lives and continue to move forward in life.
Grief remains because love remains. The intensity of our grief is not equal to the measure of our love for the one who died. Grief ebbs and flows. As we adapt and adjust to our loss we will find a way to live with and carry the loss in our minds, hearts, and soul.
It will not take our breath away constantly, be an instant gut punch, or however you describe your grief. It will always remain. There will be days that remind us of the one who died, like birthdays and anniversaries, and there will always be seasons – hunting season, holiday season, and gardening season. There will be events that remind us of them or places.
We can learn to live with and grow with our grief. We can carry that loss forward into a life without our loved one, rooted in and cherishing the past and hoping for the future while creating new memories.
Caregiver as Gardener: A Parable
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
One spring morning a gardener noticed an unfamiliar seedling poking through the ground near the rocky, untended edge of his garden. He knelt to examine its first fragile leaves. Though he had cared for many others during his long life, the gardener was unsure what this new seedling was to become. Still, it looked forlorn and in need of his encouragement, so the gardener removed the largest stones near the seedling’s tender stalk and bathed it in rainwater from his worn tin watering can.
In the coming days the gardener watched the seedling struggle to live and grow in its new, sometimes hostile home. When weeds threatened to choke the seedling, he dug them out, careful not to disturb the seedling’s delicate roots. He spooned dark, rich compost around its base. One cold April night he even fashioned a special cover for the seedling from an old canning jar so that it would not freeze.
But the gardener also believed in the seedling’s natural capacity to adapt and survive. He did not water it too frequently. He did not stimulate its growth with chemicals. Nor did he succumb to the urge to lift the seedling from its unfriendly setting and transplant it in the rich, sheltered center of the garden. Instead the gardener watched and waited.
Day by day the seedling grew taller, stronger. Its slender yet sturdy stalk reached for the heavens and its blue-green leaves stretched to either side as if to welcome the gardener as he arrived each morning.
Soon a flower bud appeared atop the young plant’s stem. Then one warm June afternoon the tightly wrapped, purple-blue petals unfurled, revealing a paler blue ring of petals inside and a tiny bouquet of yellow stamens at its center.
A columbine-the gentle wildflower whose name means “dovelike.” A single, perfect columbine.
The gardener smiled. He knew then that the columbine would continue to grow and flourish, still needing his presence but no longer requiring the daily companionship it had during its tenuous early days.
The gardener crouched next to the lovely blossom and cupped its head in his rough palm. “Congratulations,” he whispered to the columbine. “You have not only survived, you have grown beautiful and strong.”
The gardener stood and turned to walk back to his gardening shed. Suddenly a gust of wind lifted his straw hat and as he bent to retrieve it, a small voice whispered back, “Without your help I could not have. Thank you.”
The gardener looked up but no one was there. Just the blue columbine nodding happily in the breeze. . .
About the Author
Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website, www.centerforloss.com.
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