Garden of Solace

And anger. And healing.

For most gardeners, Winter is a time of rest, planning, and anticipation. After the holidays are over and the decorations stowed, we rest for a few days. Then the mailbox is stuffed with colorful catalogs, and we begin thinking about the next gardening season.

For me, though, this Winter was different—so different. Marty, my beloved husband, passed away on December 29. The fog of grief caused me to leave decorations up well into March. Christmas cards sat unread. Back-to-back nor’easters bombarded our—now, my—home here in Pennsylvania’s Poconos. The weather stayed harsh even into March, which had come in like a lion and was going to stay one.

Before I knew it, I had cut seven huge mounds of grass down to six inches each.

Friends who had gone through similar loss counseled me, telling me to let my anger go. But I didn’t have any anger—not at Marty for leaving me, not at the medical professionals who tried their best to save him, certainly not at God. Just sadness, profound sadness! How could I not be sad after losing Marty and 53-1/2 years of a wonderful marriage? Marty was my “bestest” friend, my “garden grunt,” and the most patient man in the world. I once shouted “Stop!” as we were driving along a Colorado road. Marty screeched to a halt—and I jumped out of the car!

“Julie! Are you all right?” My frantic husband called.

“I’m fine,” I yelled back. “I just spotted a clump of Indian paintbrush. I’ve never seen real Indian paintbrush, only pictures in books.”

Marty didn’t say a word. He just shook his head and smiled his wonderful ear-to-ear grin.

The weatherman was predicting that the fourth nor’easter in three weeks was about to hit. More snow?! I decided to drive down to the local flower shop—while I still could—and treat myself to a bunch of tulips. Sure enough, Jennifer had lots of red, white, and yellow tulips. I splurged and bought some of each.

But when I got home, I did not race inside. Instead I sat in the car, staring at the huge piles of snow all around the house and driveway. I especially glared at the ornamental grasses that were sticking out like unruly haystacks in the unkempt field. So much for what landscapers call Winter interest! Winter interest, my foot! The seedheads were bent and broken. Brown leaves driven by the wind were scattered all through them. They looked as broken as I felt.

The little blades of grass were soft, beautiful, and full of hope.

I don’t remember going into the garage. But suddenly I was wielding my cordless reciprocating saw at the base of each mound of grass. I sliced through the frozen stalks like a medieval knight with a sharp sword. Chunks of snow and frozen earth flew up at me. The wind blew cuttings into blueberry bushes at the edge of the woods. I hadn’t even considered wearing gloves and safety glasses. I wanted the dead grass gone! I wanted this long Winter to end. I wanted some peace in my broken heart.

The saw stuck in the middle of one clump. It made me fume as I yanked to pull the blade free.

I gathered pieces of severed grass by the armful, barely feeling the scratches from the rough grass edges as I carried and dumped them in the woods. Before I knew it, I had cut seven huge mounds of grass down to six inches each.

As I cleaned up the last mound, I saw that, despite the wild weather, tiny green shoots were sprouting up through the stalks. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Sleep had eluded me for weeks; fatigue was my constant companion. But no! The little blades of grass were real! Soft, beautiful, full of hope—hope and the promise that Spring would come indeed!

Once I was back in the house, I washed my dirty, tear-stained face. I arranged the tulips. And I gave thanks that the anger I hadn’t recognized was within me had been released.

Exhausted, I plopped down into my chair to read my first garden catalog of the season—and plan my much-needed garden of healing.


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