Can I Thrive After Loss?

Transplanting can be tricky. Risky. There’s always a chance the plant won’t adjust to the new soil or habitat.

If you’ve gardened much, there’s probably been a time when you’ve pulled up an established plant. For whatever reason: disease, overgrowth, season change, or landscaping, you pried a plant out of the ground. The root system makes it hard. Those roots have spread. They have sunk deep into the soil. As you pull, the popping and breaking tinge the air — the snap as each tentacle is yanked from its home. You feel the fight and resistance from the very things that are designed to keep that plant in the ground. The hundreds of small lifelines are interwoven, clinging to the soil, and are then ripped out of the earth by force.

This is a picture of widowhood.

Our lives were rooted and established with our spouse. Years of growing our soul’s roots into each other, embedded into the life’s soil of the other. With their death, we are yanked out, splitting and cracking our root system that was so painfully established through the years.

And then we are transplanted — thrust into a new life.

We as humans run the same risk as plants. Not being able or willing to recover from that drastic transplant. Going into transplant shock. Rejecting the new habitat. Fighting to recoup. Struggling to grow again.

As a gardener, I love the victory of seeing plants thrive after it looks like they are on the brink of death. I love seeing them recover from that shock and flourish in their new location, growing bigger, stronger and more beautiful.

I have survived widowhood. But can I do more than survive? Can I… *gulp*… thrive?

white petaled flowers
Photo by Flora Westbrook on

Thrive is a big word. A weighty word. Attached to its echo is a whisper of guilt. Can I thrive without him? *gasp* It feels so wrong. In recent months it has bogged my mind and chafed my soul…. The fact that I’m doing okay. I feel like, with every rattle of life, my husband’s memory has quaked a little further from the forefront of my mind, until I realize I can go a whole day without his absence pervading my conscious thought.

Is he just an afterthought now? How awful am I? I am becoming accustomed to being without the person that was most precious to me in all the world. It has been three and a half years, but I have grown used to his absence. Just saying that sounds harsh and makes me feel shallow.

Grief is being torn between two dynamics. The misery of clutching their memory at the forefront of your mind, or the guilt you feel to be happy when it is not.

How easily we convince ourselves that to reach a peaceful existence after loss we become disloyal to our loved one. How easily we feel burdened if we can become happy without them. Does thriving after tragedy mean you’ve betrayed their memory? Or minimized the loss? Does it mean you pushed them to the back of your mind or brought disgrace to the sanctity of their life?

Is the fact that my husband doesn’t commandeer the spotlight in my mind a good thing or bad thing? Have I simply moved forward? Or have I sacrificed the beauty of remembering him for a life free from the grip of the pain?

Well, I guess the answer is in the simple definition of “thrive.” Thrive, by definition, means to grow well. Really… It’s that simple. Somehow that simple definition took all the complexity out of it for me. Thrive doesn’t mean I’m doing better without him. It just means I continue to grow — even though it’s without him.

In my gardener’s mind I automatically thought of the tomato plant I planted this spring. It grew to about 2 feet tall, and just stopped. It was somehow stunted, I don’t know why. It never grew past a certain point and it frustrated me. It was unhealthy. And because it would not grow, it served me no purpose.

The opposite of thrive is not growing. To be stuck, stunted, imprisoned by the status quo. In no economy or industry is this considered healthy. Not even in grief.

The simple truth is growth is not the equivalent to forgetting. Growth dos not negate the profound loss. Growth doesn’t extinguish the sacredness or the beauty of what once was.

It simply means you’re growing — allowing the pain to teach you, expand you, challenge you, prune you and develop you. Allowing yourself to adjust to what now is, instead of refusing, and clinging to what can never be.

To grow well. Like a plant that has been transplanted and adjusts to its new habitat and establishes its roots again. Grows again. Creates beauty again. Fulfills its purpose again. Lives again.

Growing well can actually highlight our loss. It can honor it. Serve it. My loved one’s life and loss can be the victory song, the cadence, the testimony, the influence, the fertilizer, the catalyst, the yeast… of my life which develops, matures, grows and cultivates.

In other words — thrives.

If a tree’s branch gets ripped off in a storm, the tree continuing to grow does not diminish the harshness of that severance. But the growth can become a new thing of beauty. The growth can overshadow the deep scar so that the amputation isn’t the first thing people notice, but the beauty in spite of it.

But even though the doubts pester me, I will choose to grow.  I will choose to thrive. I choose to honor my husband’s life by allowing the tragedy to push me to new places, to good places, to mature places, to deeper places.

1 thought on “Can I Thrive After Loss?

  1. Thank you for your words. So much truth. You put into words concepts that have been on the edge of my consciousness but had no words yet. I am 10 days from the 3 year mark. I appreciate you making the effort to put these concepts into words and share them with us.


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