Unfinished Projects

Excerpt from The Tender Scar by widower Richard Mabry, MD –

The death of a loved one will leave projects and accomplishments undone.  Self-imposed pressure to finish what your loved one started may be unrealistic and unhealthy.

Some friends came by this afternoon and took a bunch of Cynthia’s gardening magazines and some of her seedlings.  Still some left, and I’ll try to find good homes for them this weekend.  The remainders go to the nursery next week–they’ll be glad to get them.  I’m alternately frustrated and depressed by having to deal with so many things that to Cynthia were second nature and to me are a mystery.

I had been really “down” about the number of unfinished projects and plans Cynthia left behind–until it dawned on me that, to her, life was a work in progress, and she would have left just as many behind at age ninety-nine as at age sixty-two.  And it’s foolish of me to think that by completing the projects (which were fun to her, not necessarily to me), I would be honoring her memory.  I think she would want me to realize my own limitations, and I can just hear her giggling if i tried to become a gardener.  As Allen (our son) said, the worst mistake I could ever make would be to try to live out Cynthia’s life for her.  So I’ll clean up her garden as best I can, put her seedlings up for adoption, tie up the loose ends of her projects, and try to move on.  She’d want it that way. (Author’s journal)

It’s a significant shock when walking through the house after the death of your spouse, to encounter projects they will never complete.  whether it’s finishing the laundry that overflows the hamper, planting the flowers that sit in rows of pots on the back porch, or knowing what to do with the unfinished painting that sits on the table in the study, dealing with these matters is painful.

There are two primary emotions engendered by unfinished projects.  The first is sorrow that your loved one will never again know the feeling of completing an earthly task.  Whether it was a household chore or a recreational project, the very presence of the unfinished act reminds us that he or she is gone from this earth.

Following hard on the heels of grief for our loved one is grief for ourselves.  We have been robbed of their companionship, presence, and love.  This hurts and will continue to hurt for some time to come.  So we try to assuage the pain in a very direct way–by continuing to live their lives for them.  The temptation is great to throw ourselves into completing the unfinished tasks in an effort to somehow hang on to our departed loved ones for just a big longer.  Some tasks must, of course, eventually be finished.  Clothes must be washed, beds made, and daily household chores carried out.  Others can be completed if, and only if, we are up to it.

In some cases, you may “give the projects a good home” with someone who shares the interest and talents of the one who left them behind.  Some things may be kept, even in an uncompleted state, for sentimental value.  And finally, some may be discarded.  This is not disrespectful.  It merely recognizes that your loves one has moved on.  He or she would undoubtedly be the first to tell you, “Don’t try to continue living my life for me.  Move forward with your own“.

4 responses

  1. Very good thoughts in this post, Candy. This has helped me look at things differently, since I’m now ready to start dealing with my husband’s things such as his woodworking tools, etc. I don’t have to feel like I should take up woodworking in order to make him proud of me. He’d be prouder for me to pass his things to others who would enjoy and use them, and start pursuing more of what interests me. We do, indeed, have to move forward with our own lives. Thanks for this!


  2. Candy, Thanks for sharing. My husband has a lot of antique floor lamps that he enjoyed working on in his spare time. He finished a few that we have in our home. I am just unable to get rid of the rest which are sitting in my garage. Some days my mind won’t let me believe that he is gone and is still coming back. it will be 11 months since his passing. God bless you. Mariane


    • Mariane, you will know if it’s ever time to let go of some of those lamps in the garage. I wouldn’t make a move until then. You are still early on in your grief. Thank you for sharing your heart.


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