Monday, August 9, 2010

My Garden Path

I have found a great deal of peace this summer in my garden. Each day, I have made myself take at least an hour--sometimes two--away from the paperwork and sorting work that comes with loss, to sit quietly reading in the shady garden at the back of the house.

After just a few minutes, a sound or a broken twig will make me look up from my book and I will see, emerging from the suburban quiet around me, the life of the garden. A hummingbird flits over to the purple agapanthus and whirs about the blooms, drinking in their syrup. A blue jay splashes in the birdbath where I put the residue from my watering can. Two squirrels chase each other up and down the adolescent redwood tree in the yard next door. A chickadee bounces across the lawn, so busy at its work it does not seem to notice me.

I had no unfinished business with my parents when they died and this has helped to bring me the peace I feel this summer. I moved across the American continent to be closer to them as they grew fragile. I set aside the needs of my own life for that short time, to make sure their lives were the best they could be. In that time I resolved nearly all of the nagging issues that had troubled me in my relationships with them. What I could not resolve, I forgave.

They had always been impossible to please. But in this one case, I pampered them both and pleased them both as I forgave myself for my own imperfections.

My father was not ready to die. He had three or four terminal diseases, but he had kept himself in such incredibly good condition all his life that neither his body nor his soul were ready to make the transition to the next life--even though he was ninety years old. He fought it very hard those last few weeks. So much so that when my sister said to him, "Heaven is near!", thinking to bring him peace, he replied: "Gosh, I hope not!"

He was in hospice when he fell into a coma and it broke my heart that I could no longer speak to him, or cheer him as he went quietly into himself to go on about his journey without me. That was the hardest week of my life.

But in our last conversation, I knew he knew how much I loved him. When he saw me that morning he said: "Hello Robin! How are YOU feeling today!" as if he were thrilled to see me and as if I were the patient and not he. He saw I was wearing his Auburn sweatshirt so he moved his hands in the little "Hold That Tiger" dance they did at Auburn football games. He hadn't eaten his breakfast that morning, so I found a dish of ice cream and I helped him eat it and he smiled and said "Yum yum. That is good!" I held his hand as he dozed a while and then he awakened and looked at me and said "Robin, I am so sick. Robin I am so very sick." It was the only time he admitted to me with despair in his voice that he had guessed his time was short. It was his goodbye to me, for just minutes later he slipped into unconsciousness.

I don't think about these sad times so often as I did in the spring. Watching the garden come to bloom this summer--the garden my father worked in every free hour of his life--has been a comfort. He nurtured it and it gave back to him in return. The neighborhood children and pets would see him there, raking leaves, pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, washing his car, and they were drawn to him. He made friends with all of them and people still stop in their walks around this neighborhood to chat with me about him.

And now the peace he nurtured in the garden has come back to me. The wildlife and I are soothed in its shade, warmed by its sun, brightened by its blossoms and calmed by its sounds--the sounds of life that continue on into eternity.

My father in his garden.

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