Gardening Through Grief

A huge part of needing land beneath my feet, this spring of all springs, comes from losing both my parents this winter.

My mother passed away in December and my father in February.

They were both 87 and had both been struggling with their health for a long time.

Only days before her death our mother told us, “I’ve had such a wonderful life. I got to do everything I wanted. I am ready to go.”

Dad wasn’t able to talk-or walk-for the last two years, but we knew him well enough to know that this wasn’t how he wanted to end up. That he too, in his own way, was ready to go.

I know so many people who have lost family much younger who were not at all ready to leave. When I grieve it feels almost indulgent, but I know this is ridiculous. They were still my parents. Of course I am still going to grieve.

And so comes the craving for soil. My parents had huge ties to the earth; my father as a farmer and my mother as a gardener. My love of the country, of land and of gardening feels as if it’s genetic. Or if it isn’t, then it’s definitely a happy case of serendipity that I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who shared and supported that passion.

However it all works, I just know that getting my own hands back in the soil will help me sort out the soup of emotions that are bubbling around inside me.

The last dozen years spent watching my parent’s health decline, one after the other, and of those last days spent together, are all tied to over 50 years of being their youngest daughter. There’s so much to sort out, I don’t even know where to begin.

As things worsened for my parents if felt as if I had been grabbed by the heart and yanked in the air, feet kicking, suspended in some kind of in-between reality. At the same time, I was hovering four floors in the air, looking down from our apartment at all the people walking their dogs, having a barbecue and going about their normal lives, while my own felt more and more untethered from anything resembling normal. Or at least the version of normal we had been so fortunate to have known for so long.

And even though my parents were declining and I knew things were never going back to that normal, that instead they were going to get steadily worse, I still hung on to hope, because that’s what humans do. You hope that today your parents won’t be in too much discomfort, that today maybe Dad will be alert enough to smile when you talk to him, or tomorrow you’ll come up with something special to make Mom feel a little happier. A part of you starts thinking it’s going to go on this way forever, that it will never be over. And then they’re gone.

It seems so strange that we finally found a house after all these years of searching, so soon after losing my parents. It’s like I am slowly being lowered back down to earth, to a new place, a new reality, new roots. Now what? It all feels so shaky and surreal.

I am so lucky to have two sisters who have shared in it all, every step of the way. Two people who will listen and know exactly what I’m feeling, even when I am not altogether sure myself.

And I am so lucky to have a husband who is willing to trade in his carefree condo life for more maintenance, just so his wife can have a garden to work out her grief in. And so he can have birds to feed in the backyard. At least he gets birds out of the deal.

And we are all so lucky, lucky, lucky, to have had two wonderful parents in our lives for so long.

They will be missed.