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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Gardens as healers

This is a tale of two trees. Framed in the blossoming peach branches in my yard is the view of a pine tree across the street. Both trees, as it happens, were planted the very same spring day. Both trees, and I desperately wish this reason hadn't happened, are memorials to young men lost. The peach tree is in honor of my brother; the pine in honor of my neighbors' son. They died a month apart that awful winter of 2009. Both were 29. 

Having a piece of my garden dedicated to my brother has been very healing for me. I don't remember planning this when we purchased the peach tree, but its fruit ripens around Ben's September birthday. 

Ben was in a coma for about a week that July. It was dire. That he emerged and we had him again for a spell, even if it was just until February, is a miracle. The thing about a coma is that time and ability get skewered for everyone involved, not just the patient. I was too consumed with worry and hospital visits to address much else, least of all my wilted garden.

My father-in-law made the hour-plus trip to our house one day during Ben's coma. I don't remember why. He is a doctor and very proud to share his medical expertise; he knew more than any of us how hopeless the situation was and could have easily -- and maybe even justifiably -- inserted himself to tell us so. Instead, he looked around for tools and headed to the garden. I sat, defeated, at the edge of the patio, only occasionally lifting my head from my hands to watch him water my thirsty patch. The way he held the rake, tines up, to make the hose a mobile shower head was ingenious. He and I exchanged no words in the backyard -- our relationship was tenuous anyway, and it would have been hard to speak. Yet I've never forgotten the way he tended to me when he tended my garden.

When my neighbors' son died that March their friend set to work in their front yard. I watched from my kitchen window as this woman tackled weeding, cleared space for a flowerbed and planted bright, cheerful pansies. That spot is where the pine tree now grows. I joined her one afternoon while my baby napped. Regarding her motivation to comfort, she told me she didn't know what to say, but she did know what she could do. During her labor over several days in the front yard, she was an ambassador for the family, helping to greet and give updates to other concerned neighbors, many of whom came by while the family was at the mortuary. Her kindness continues to inspire me.

Sadly, the woman's son died this autumn. I sent condolences and helped with the funeral, but I want to do more to show her I care. The only way I know how is to get my hands dirty in her yard. Spring comes on its own, no matter what we do, but when we work to remove the effects of winter we get to bask in the sunshine longer and feel its warmth more surely. 

In the case of the peach and the pine, I see these two trees every day and smile to know their tragic backstories are tempered by the acts of loving gardeners.


David said...

Jennifer, I'm so sad to hear about your brother's passing. Your story is a beautiful one about the recovery process and the reminder you see each day that has turned your tears into smiles. Time really does heal the heart. The memory remains for ever. It's been almost 15 years since my wife passed and still a whiff of some one in a store that is wearing her perfume or a song on the radio that reminds me of her will bring a flood of memories. So melancholy days still happen but it's usually happy memories about our life together.

Have the best brother memory day that you can in the garden.

Jennifer said...

Dave, thank you for your kind comment. I am very sorry about your dear wife. Although melancholy days aren't my favorite they seem to add credence to the happy ones. Take care!

daisy gurl said...

I'm sorry for the losses of your brother as well as the other two young men. Your story expresses such tenderness and shows the goodness in folks. Those two trees are in good company. May they grow tall and strong. Blessings...