Grief

The coming of Fall always leaves me contemplative.  I have begun to equate the coming of fall to going through the stages of grief.  Somewhere in my college education I had to learn about these stages, but they were never more in-my-face until my dad became sick. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the mid-80s when I was 25.   I think at that moment when I heard those words I had no feeling at all if that is possible.  It’s the before the pain time like when you smash your finger, and you don’t feel it right away, but boy when you do look out…then the screaming begins.  And so it was with me.  It is particularly difficult when someone you love dies, but it is most painful when a parent, child or spouse dies.  And it doesn’t matter if it is sudden or takes a long time like it did with my dad.  He had this horrible disease for 15 long torturous years.  When the word came he had died I was numb…there it was…no feeling…took days but it came and has come for the last 12 years as if I was hearing for the first time he was GONE…there is that word- GONE…never to talk to or see again….

They say there are 5 stages to grief (though now some experts feel there are 7)-Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  Every fall I go through this melancholy.  It’s like I am experiencing grief.  Grief that the garden will soon be covered with snow and I won’t be able to get out there and see, feel, smell and hear it’s beauty.  The garden is my therapy.  Without it I would surely go mad.  So whenever the first wave of cool weather hits I Deny it.  I avoid the whole idea that summer is coming to a close.  Instead I go on and on about the relief from the heat and how good the cool air feels.  Let’s face it I’m in Denial.  And I know it and I am so Angry I could spit.  Now what do I have to look forward to all winter long?  As a tried and true plantaholic, dirt addicted, weed loving gardener I am not looking forward to the long cold nights of winter with nothing to do and endless white to look at.

But you know just because the winds are cooling does not mean we can’t have a warm fall.  I need more warm weather.  I have plants growing and more veggies that need just a few more weeks to ripen.  Come on…just a few more weeks please…we could have a long Indian Summer.  All right who am I kidding this is Central NY.  We are known for our long, cold, white winters that go on for up to 6 months some years.   Oh God, I don’t know if I can take another LOOOOONNGG winter. They really can get so Depressing.  But you know I could plan for changes in the garden and buy more plants (my husband loves this part).  I can start my seeds for the veggie garden sooner this year in winter and watch them grow.  I can grow some forced bulbs inside.  After all there are things a gardener can do while we wait for the emergence of the first early bulbs of spring.  Growing Snowdrops, Snow Crocus and Winter Aconite or Christmas Rose plants near a window where I can see them will certainly help too (those are those early bulbs).

I know that fall for a gardener can bring on feelings of grief, but I have learned to Accept the coming of the autumnal equinox.  I know that with the first cool down many plants send up a resurgence of growth and begin to flower again.  The sight of beautiful daylilies, delphiniums and bearded irises blooming again are enough to wash away any melancholy.  And I do live for the sights and aromas of fall.  The smell of ripe and overripe fruit and veggies (apples, grapes, tomatoes); the bright orange, red and yellow leaves that  fall and smell of long ago childhood memories of running and jumping in the piles raked; the small and large gourds and pumpkins stacked on bales of hay; the cawing of crows -these all would be lost in we had no fall.  So I do Accept the coming of fall.  I Accept that I will be sad throughout the long winter, but I know I have my memories of the garden in pictures.  And I will have my plants again in the spring as the life of the garden starts anew.

I think because the garden is my sanctuary when I am sad, depressed, angry or stressed I decided as loved ones died that I would try to honor them with a plant in my garden-the new garden here near the lake.  I started with roses.  My dad loved roses.  Not sure if it was because my mom loved roses but that sounds like him.  So I equate roses with dad and I planted a bunch.  And not any of those fussy ones; not in my garden.  I can’t deal with fussy roses so I started with lots of different Knockout Roses.  Easy to grow and just beautiful as the double pink one in the picture above can attest to.  It started to bloom again this fall.

And when my mother-in-law Clara Roberti died suddenly 5 yrs ago I planted a Clara Curtis daisy.  The plant grew to over 4 feet by 4 feet the first year (it is not supposed to get bigger than 2 feet).  It got so big I had to dig it out of the small planting bed it was in and move it in the first fall.  It now grows in multiple areas in the back yard gardens and boy does it grow even in dry shade conditions.  I have planted more butterfly bushes in honor of my neighbor Ruth who died a year ago -how she loved hummingbirds.  Hummers seem to flock to these shrubs and mine want to seed themselves everywhere in the garden.  I also am planting an early tulip named Donna Bella  in honor of my father-in-law whom I’ve never met.  I hope that these flowers will be a source of wonderful memories for my husband in his grief that has lasted 35 years now.  It is fitting to honor the memory of loved ones in a garden.  Where else will they live year after year coming and going in and out of the garden as they have come in and out of our lives.  We can deny they are gone…be angry…try to bargain or be depressed about it….I choose to accept the emotions of Grief.  With my garden they are not gone…I can see them again and again in the beautiful blooms each year and know my loved ones will live in my heart and garden forever.

11 comments

  1. Jen-Jen says:

    So I should not have read this at work, because now my eyes are red and blurry!! I love your writing style, and I love how you relate your gorgeous garden to the spirits of loved ones who have passed. It must provide a great feeling of comfort to both you and Bob. I am so sorry about your father. I feel as though I can relate to what you went through. Watching someone you love so much slowly deteriorate is agony.

    I get depressed when I feel that chill in the air, too. BUT the only thing that does get me through the cold months is cooking warm, delicious comfort food! If it helps, I’ll drop off casseroles and pies to you all winter long and we gain 50 lbs together! Great work on the blog, Donna! Keep up the wonderful work! I look forward to reading more!

  2. Donna says:

    I have had lots of response to this post and lots of questions. First, the idea for a memory garden was not original to me and has many incarnations. I started mine in 1998 when my dad died and tried to bring flowers with me to our new house 5 yrs ago. They did not survive so I started it over 5 yrs ago and have been adding to it slowly…the plants are all over the yard not in one garden area. Some other types of memory gardens I have heard about are a scripture garden and I just heard a couple of days ago that a friend is planting a friend garden…love it and how original!!

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