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In the garden

The sun warmed me through my sweatshirt on Sunday afternoon. As I planted neat rows of early spring vegetables and fruits—onions, spinach, peas, strawberries and a single rhubarb plant—I thought of my parent’s gardens.

It was my father’s method of tying a string to two stakes that I use for planting vegetables. Between the stakes and following the line of the string, I pulled my hand held hoe to make a clean, fairly straight row. After planting the seeds—big peas or tiny spinach—I replaced the string stakes with a single marker at the end of the row.

My father’s gardens were filled with beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions and beets. He loved his corn crop—each spring pouring over the sweet corn seeds at Bash’s Seed Store in downtown Indianapolis. I remember one year all he talked about was picking a seed called NK-199.

My mother’s gardens did not follow the rigidity of straight rows. She grew flowers seeking to attract wildlife to her yard. She was a student of her garden. Reading gardening books; studying the types of plants for attracting different animals; experimenting with leaf texture, color, and shape to create a pleasing bed. Even as I prepare rows for a vegetable garden, I plant flower beds in the back yard with an eye to color, height, shape and texture. From my mother, I learned the patience of a committed gardener. The waiting involved for small perennials to grow to large, annually blossoming plants.

Both my parents have died. In their absence, I’ve come to see their gardens as an extension of our relationship. For in my own garden I connect to lessons I learned from Mom and Dad. I can recall hot summer evenings when we picked fresh sweet corn for dinner. I remember my mother cutting blossoms for a friend in the hospital.

Before my sisters and I sold our family home, I dug up some of my mother’s perennials and brought them to my garden—just as she had done with plants from her own mother’s farm. Now when I see the gooseneck loosestrife, baptisia and coneflower blooming I feel a sense of her presence with me. When I look out over the neat rows in my vegetable garden, I know my father’s engineering precision.

Loss is like that I think. Painful and filled with the sense of great absence of someone deeply loved. And overflowing with possibilities; the opportunity to stay connected through things loved and shared over time.

To me, mourning is a bit like gardening. Mourning is the time of waiting when the garden is covered in snow and ice. It is the sad muddy season of early spring when nothing seems to be happening. It is the bright relief of warming sun—light shed on circumstances forever changed by both grief and possibility. It is the abundance of harvest; new awakenings, resilience, returning hope even as the leaves change color and move to the time of rest.

I have found that the seasons in my garden can inform any given day of loss, helping me remember that all is not lost. There are memories to cherish, glimpses of joy, new hope and the happy discovery that some plants have survived the long hard months—just as I have.