Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Garden Clippings

I really let my garden yard, full of roses, grape vines and fruit trees, get away from me last year. When the heat of summer hit, I abandoned the little side yard and cowered inside with the AC running non-stop. When fall came, well…it was still summer. It stayed hot–well into the 100s—all the way through October. It stayed hot, and I stayed in. Every man, woman and rosebush for themselves! Winter came and went in the blink of an eye and here we are again with spring arriving in January.

And January finds the once lovely oasis is now a shambles of weeds, fallen leaves and scraggly, overgrown bushes. My little fountain sits empty and silent, its pump having given up many moons ago. Instead of blooming annuals, dull dry brown weeds as tall as trees surround the fountain. Climbing vines meant to soften the arched trellis seem rather to have swallowed it whole. The now leafless grapevines have spread and climbed into trees and trellises more than ten feet beyond their allotted corner. Let’s just say the garden is in chaos.


These past few weekends, I finally got out and got to work on clearing out last year’s residue from the garden yard. As I worked, random thoughts, ideas and questions came to me. Some relate to grieving and others just to life in general. Garden metaphors are certainly not new, but here, in no particular order, are a few of my “garden clippings.”

January is the optimum time in this part of Arizona to prune roses and non-citrus fruit trees, but calendar time is so arbitrary. It’s time to plant tomatoes here – but not back east or up north. There are rhythms and cycles and weather patterns that just don’t know how to read calendars. When does the grieving season end and the healing season begin? It’s not a date on a calendar. It’s not a set of five stages that you go through one after the other and then you’re done. There’s a rhythm and a pattern unique to each person and unique to each loss. Rather than measuring progress against the yardstick of time, we need to feel our own rhythms to know when we need the rest of lying fallow and when it’s time to bloom once again.


It’s been in the high 70’s for two weeks now and the peach tree is already beginning to bud out. I begin trimming anyway, hoping that new buds will form below where I’ve cut. Clip, clip, clip. Unopened buds fall to the ground around me. Then I find two large branches that have to go – one looks diseased, the other will be unstable when full of ripe fruit. Better to cut it than have it break later. Out comes the chain saw. Buzz, buzz, buzz. I stand back to admire my work and shake my head at what’s left of the tree. No minor pruning—this was major surgery. I console myself by saying that the poor little tree can only bear so many buds. Every year we lose at least one branch under the weight of all the peaches. Better to be brutal now, to select the strong branches. And later, to be brutal thinning down the little green fuzzy peach infants so that the remaining branches can hold their weight. At this cavalier snipping and chopping, does the peach tree register the same numbing shock that I did losing Cameron? Will it wither and die from the pain of it? I hope that, like me, it will bloom all the more and grow strong enough to birth its sweet juicy fruits without breaking.

What branches need cutting out in my life? How much blooming can I stand? How many peaches can I juggle without collapsing under their weight? I’ve got a million ideas, but I can’t see them all to fruition. Possibilities flood through me in profusion, but I’ve got to pick and choose, to weigh and balance, to cut out a whole lot of ideas, even really good ones, and focus on nurturing those blooms that remain.


Why is it so much easier to prune my fruit trees than it is to clean up my office? Cut and toss, cut and toss, cut and toss. With a discerning eye, I easily identify what stays and what goes. This branch stays, this branch goes, these shoots along the top can stay, these going off at odd angles have to go. Yet in my office I can stare at a pile of year old paper and the best I can muster is to move the pile to the other end of the desk or put it into a basket to sort through later. Maybe I need to tackle my office with pruning shears!


I keep working my way around the fountain and it’s entourage of weeds. Thinking about clearing them away feels overwhelming. Yet I’ve already purchased the annuals that will take their place. This is what I do. I get ahead of myself, put the cart before the horse. I want the blooming garden before the ground’s even prepared to hold it. I don’t want to do the weeding. I don’t want to do the tilling. I don’t even want to do the planting. I want to cut to the chase and enjoy the blossoms!

Maybe cleaning my office is more like pulling weeds than pruning trees.


Thank God for husbands! My DH musta read my mind, cuz he cleared all those weeds around the pond for me. Procrastination does pay sometimes! Did I say the weeds were as tall as trees? That was no exaggeration – when the weeds were finally cleared away, they revealed a “volunteer” oak sapling about 7 feet high with a trunk as big around as my thumb! First of all, how’d that get there? I don’t have any trees like that on or near my property. Second of all, what kind of 7 foot interlopers do I have in the inner garden of my subconscious, buried behind the weeds? Or in my office, buried under a stack of paper for that matter… Oh, Deeeeeee aaaayyccchH? Wanna clean up this mess for me too?


There’s an elegant and austere beauty to the newly pruned garden. It has a Zen-like quality. The little fountain, cleared of its weeds, stands ready to host the sound of trickling water, the newly pruned roses await their first unfurling leaves and bare tree branches curve up into the blue sky like an empty bowl holding space for the growth yet to come.

Wishing you peace on the journey...

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Changing Face of Grief

The morning after my Dad died, he came to me in a dream.

In my dream, my Dad is sitting in a chair with a large Tefla bandage on the upper right side of his head. His blue eyes are clear and twinkling and he’s wearing a sort of self-satisfied, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin. Without any words, he communicates to me that he’s been fixed up good as new. The damage from his right-hemisphere stroke and the debilitations of dementia he experienced in the last year of his life (and even longer than that, to a milder degree) have been healed. I smile and say, “Well, look at you, Dad!” I give him a hug and a kiss and tell him I love him.

I am amazed at how differently this loss is affecting me compared to Cameron’s death nearly five years ago now. Cameron visited me in dreams, too. But at first, every time he visited my grief and anger were so powerful that I ended up pushing him away. I would awaken from those dreams full of pain and sadness. My dream of Dad left me filled only with peace. It puzzles me a bit how unemotional I have been about my Dad’s death. I’m trying not to beat myself up over it, but I have been giving it a lot of thought. People offer me condolences and I feel like there’s no consoling needed.

Recently, as I was perusing other blogs on the theme of grief, I came across this post called "Good Grief," which contains some good, basic information about grieving. The post includes a list of things that can affect a person’s response to a loss. I can see how some of the ideas presented there have applied in my own experiences of grief.

Anticipatory grief, for example, happens when death is anticipated over a long period of time due to illness or other circumstances. The reaction to an expected death is very different than the reaction to a sudden, unexpected death. It doesn’t necessarily mean the grief is lessened, but the shock is lessened. There is a level of anticipation or expectation that we will outlive our parents, but we don’t expect to outlive our children. The difference in feeling about these two deaths is partly because of that, but it’s more than that, too. With my Dad, I think my grieving happened before he passed. I felt more sadness in watching his brilliant mind fade away than I did at the passing of his body, which, at the end, seemed only a shell of him anyway. I had some anticipatory grief with Cameron’s death, too. He’d been struggling with addiction for years and I kept waiting for something terrible to happen. Yet, I was not prepared for his unexpected death in the county jail. I thought that there, of all places, he’d be forcibly protected from his self-destructive addiction. When the detectives from the jail came to tell me he was dead, the shock was incredible. While there was anticipatory grief with both my Dad and my son, in the end I expected and even hoped for my Dad’s passing while I resisted the idea of Cameron’s death right up to the moment I learned of it.

Another thing that impacts the grief experience is the relationship you had with the person who died. I was certainly much closer to my son than I was to my Dad. Even though I had been a caretaker for my Dad for the last several years, it was more out of necessity than closeness. Prior to the decline of his and my Mom’s health, I really didn’t see my folks much. Even though I love my Dad, my life was very separate from his life. Cameron and I, on the other hand, were extremely entangled – probably unhealthily so. I believe it is called co-dependence. So his death left a gaping hole in my own sense of identity. There was also a lot of unresolved business with Cameron, where with my Dad I felt I had no loose ends, no grievances, nothing I felt guilty about. Cameron’s death left a lot of things unsaid and undone. Over time, since his death, we have had an opportunity to resolve all those issues and to heal our relationship so that now I can think of him with love and with peace in my heart. But in the beginning, there was only pain and guilt and anger. So I guess it’s easier to let go of my Dad because there’s no baggage there.

One more thing the post mentions is that what you’ve learned about loss in the past will inform any future experiences of grief. This certainly seems true in my case. Cameron’s death and all the amazing experiences that followed have completely transformed my understanding of and feelings about death. Where before I supposed (or at least hoped) that death was not a final ending, I now know it without any doubt at all. I have had too many amazing communications with Cameron since he passed to think of him as “dead.” His passing also taught me that the bond of love survives the apparent separation of death. It not only survives, but becomes stronger and healthier. My sense of death now is that it is a return to our true soul state, while our adventures here on Earth are temporary challenges—learning and growing experiences. Rather than grieving my Dad’s passing, I can celebrate his homecoming and know that our hearts remain connected.

Wishing you peace on the journey…

As always, I welcome your coments here or by email (

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Love Never Dies

I sat with my father for the last time on Thursday the 18th of December. His condition was not much different from the past several days; he was sleeping and unresponsive. I was scheduled to leave the next morning on a 6 am flight to Colorado to go see my daughter graduate from CSU. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be here anymore when I returned on Sunday.

After turning on one of his favorite CDs of Tahitian music, I sat by his bedside and held his hand. I sang and hummed along with the music I’d heard a million times, as he used to play that CD over and over again before he began to slip away so completely. I told him once again that he didn’t have to keep fighting. I told him not to worry about Mom – that we’d keep taking good care of her. I told him I loved him and what a good Dad he’d been, what a great family he’d created. What an extraordinary life he’d led, winding his way from Quebec, Canada all the way down here to Arizona! He really had had some adventures in his time.

My eyes wandered to a poster of a palm dotted white sandy beach and azure sea that we’d tacked to the wall by his bed. I asked him if he remembered his trip to Tahiti, his time in Hawaii, and all his years of sailing. “Wouldn’t it be nice to just drift away on a beautiful blue expanse of sea?” I asked him. “To just let go and let the wind fill your sails as you glide over the waters? It feels almost like flying, doesn’t it?”

The rest of the day was busy, getting Mom picked up from dialysis and settled back at home and then visiting with a dear friend who lives in the same retirement complex as my mother. The parking lot was strewn with golden fall leaves as I walked out to my car at the end of the day. With the sun just beginning to set, each leaf seemed to glow. It was quite beautiful. One leaf, a perfect heart, caught my eye. “Well, look at you,” I said, as I bent to pick it up. None of the other fallen leaves were heart shaped. They were more ovalish and elongated. I craned my neck and looked at every tree surrounding the parking lot. Not one of them had heart shaped leaves. I believe they were ash trees. I smiled and said an inward hello to Cameron. He’d been sending me hearts since just after he died and I felt him there with me. When I got into the car and started the engine, the radio played Michael McDonald’s version of “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”

The next morning, as my plane lifted up off the tarmac and into the clouds, my Dad died peacefully in his sleep. I wonder now if that heart-shaped leaf was from Cameron or from my Dad – if the song on the radio was a message from Cameron or from my Dad. I suppose it doesn’t matter, really. The bottom line is that love is what matters and love never dies.