The Connection Between Nature and Grief Management

Every individual grieves differently following the loss of a loved one. There is not one “right way” to navigate the overwhelming and complicated emotions that accompany bereavement.

When it comes to grieving children, the emotions they experience are even more difficult to work through because they lack the maturity to fully express their feelings. One outlet that has been known to offer unique support throughout the grieving process is interaction with nature.

There are numerous aspects that make nature, specifically gardens, an ideal environment for navigating grief, such as its cyclical traits. When spending time in gardens, children can experience the seasons and life-death cycle. They can witness growth, life and comfort but also come to understand dormancy, death and some of the less pleasant changes that occur in nature.

All of these features create a special and meaningful foundation for children to navigate the grieving process. Gardens offer positive, peaceful emotional outlets, opportunities for memory reinforcement, social interaction and stress reduction. Through learning the characteristics of nature, children can build self-efficacy, improve creativity and engage in reflection.

Horticulture therapy allows for interactive healing opportunities that are not easily experienced through other means. This unique type of therapy uses plants as tools to help individuals through the restoration process. By participating in garden-based activities – such as planting and caring for plants – children can release stress through positive means and better understand the cyclical nature of life.

In order to bring this remarkable form of healing to the thousands of grieving children in northern Colorado, Pathways has embarked on a new initiative to build the Children’s Healing Garden on the east side of its Fort Collins location. This Garden will include several unique features, such as an oversized “bird’s nest” with an “eggs” seating area, vine tunnels, memory gardens, mandalas and more.

The Garden will be a public facility for use by everyone in the community, young and old. The therapy gardens bring to the grieving process is helpful for both children and older adults. The Garden will be used in collaboration with other community agencies, including The Growing Project, 3Hopeful Hearts and the Alliance for Suicide Prevention to bring hope and healing to children in our community. There are many volunteer opportunities available through Pathways as well, information about volunteering and the Children’s Healing Garden by visiting the website at


Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Tammy Brannen-Smith, LCSW. Tammy Brannen-Smith is the Director of Pathways for Grief and Loss with Pathways and may be reached at 970-292-1072 or by email at