For Opal

Winter is generally viewed as the rose garden’s season of rest and, therefore, the gardener’s.

This may be true for roses. The physiology of their purposeful hibernation reminds me of the grizzly and the groundhog. But it is not entirely true for the gardener.

In the high desert, where precipitation isn’t dependable, we keep a watchful eye on the weather. If it hasn’t rained or snowed measurably for a couple of weeks, we’re outside with the hose and watering can. If the wind scatters the mulch we so carefully spread in the fall, we’re likely to throw on a jacket and rummage around in the shed for a rake.

The roses don’t ask for this help. But they need it just as surely as they need pruning and fertilizer in other seasons. The key for the gardener is to pay attention.

The same is true for friendships.

It’s easy to respond when someone reaches out for a helping hand or a strong shoulder. How many of us have gladly sat with a friend during the grueling hours of chemotherapy, provided care for children or pets, cooked a meal, run an errand, or joined in a prayer chain at church or on social media?

But what about those friends who don’t reach out?

This month I lost a friend who I didn’t even realize was gravely ill. Oh, I knew she’d been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. But the last time we talked about it, she was in remission.

Her occasional posts on social media in recent weeks didn’t hint that anything was amiss — an eagle atop a flagpole, an old photo of her and her husband on their anniversary, family memories. Not a word about her health. And I didn’t ask.

Then came the news she had passed away. On her 66th birthday.

My sadness was magnified by my unintentional neglect. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for silence even when hundreds of miles separate you. A text is as easy to send, a call as easy to make, when you don’t know someone needs you as it is when you do.

This is my apology to Opal for not paying attention, for not sending that text. It’s also my heartfelt thanks to her for living a life that reminded me and all who knew her that it is good to be cheerful and kind, calm and wise, and that hope and laughter are always in season.

Opal, your long winter is over. It’s always springtime in Heaven. See you there one day, dear friend.

What We Do for Love

Gardening is caregiving.

The thought occurred to me last week while carrying gallons of water from one corner of our property to the other. I continued until my side ached. I continued because there hasn’t been a drop of rain since we turned off the irrigation system for the winter.

Caregiving - It's About LoveI made 33 round trips from the spigot to the rose garden that day. Caregiving came to mind because hauling water is one of those tasks you aren’t necessarily eager to do, but you do it anyway. You do it to ensure the object of your care receives what’s necessary to survive. You do it without promise of rest. You do it for love.

How do I know? My mother lived with me the last 12 years of her life and, for nine of those years, she depended on me for her care.

It unfolded the way a tree grows in the desert. When you first plant the seedling, it gets along on moderate amounts of water and fertilizer. As it reaches ever upward toward the heavens, its need for your support increases exponentially. The demands wear you out sometimes, but it’s a privilege to be part of the experience.

It’s funny how the garden puts sweet metaphors into my head at just the right time. It’s funnier still how the world circles around to hug you when you need it.

On December 9th it will be five years since my mother quietly pulled up roots and drifted unfettered toward the heavens. It’s a tough anniversary. Maybe because human hands typically have five fingers, we tend to think of five as some kind of golden measurement.

Five-year-olds start kindergarten. Five letters are always vowels. Five food groups teach us to eat healthy. Five questions answered in a Jeopardy category is a sweep. Five years post breast cancer is a celebration. Five, five, five.

If only five meant that I could mark mourning off my post-Mom “to do” list. Regrettably, grief has no end date and, by the time the sun came up on November 1st this year, I was already dreading the anniversary. Thank goodness for angels on Earth.

“Would you like to go to the caregiver recognition luncheon with me on the 14th?” came my friend’s first text that morning.

And then, “Would you be willing to judge some of our nominations?”

Within hours I was reading about extraordinary people who tirelessly care for family, friends, and clients. Their stories were inspiring and unexpectedly comforting. Caregiving is my past, but it’s their present, and participating in the award process allowed me to support their journey. The luncheon popped up on my schedule last week. It was healing, even cathartic.

Two days later, I made those 33 round trips to the water spigot. Every time I filled up the container, my soul also filled up – with compassion for caregivers everywhere and with gratitude for my own experience.

Long about trip No. 5, I realized … it wasn’t water I was carrying. It was love.