Day 43 of the 100 day project.

The thirteenth of May.  Had he lived, my father would have been eighty four today.  His illness and decline were so important to my experience of the garden that I shall talk a bit about that today.



We gave him a splendid eightieth birthday.  My mother had died quite without warning from a heart attack six months earlier and the village hall had been full of people for her funeral wanting to share their memories of her.  It might sound odd that we had his birthday party in the same place but it felt very right.  Lots of the same people were there and, although my mother's funeral had had its odd surprising moments of joy, the shock of her death was overwhelming and full of pain and it felt good to have some more simple moments of pleasure in that friendly community place.

My sister had pulled all the stops out to get everyone there who my dad wanted to see: all the children, with their husbands and wives, most of the grandchildren, now adult so some with families of their own, meaning there were a couple of little great grandchildren.  My father's sister came and her daughter and that always made dad smile.  There were friends and neighbours both from my parents' recent life in Okehampton but also from Topsham where they had lived for many years and whose community my Dad loved.  There were old workmates from his time as Devon's County Photographer and new friends too.   There was great food, always important in our family.  My father totally loved it.

His life had fallen apart after my mother died.  He lost not only his wife of fifty three years and, he would say, his best friend, but his carer as he declined through motor neurone disease.  By the time of his birthday he had had to leave the assisted living apartment into which they had moved because he was too disabled without my mother's help to manage there and he had moved into a home where he was  not happy.  We found him somewhere else to live which suited him rather better and although his last months were very difficult they also had much happiness in them.  But his birthday, that birthday, was very simply a good day, a day that he loved.  He was delighted to see everyone.  He was moved that so many people had made the effort to come.  He was exhausted by it too but it lives in my memory as a very good day, a day like a card with gold edges, my mother used to call them.


It is strange to be working in the garden and to know he has gone, that they have both gone.  He loved May, partly because it was his birthday month, partly because it was his mother's name and partly because he was a photographer so he loved light and colour and May is the month of singing green and colour erupting all around.  Looking after him, which I shared with my sister who carried so much of the burden because she lived close by, became all consuming after my mother died.  I stopped gardening.  Dad lived five hours away and Ian and I drove the six hundred mile round trip every week.  The garden was an irrelevance, and as it slipped into mess and chaos, an irritation, an embarrassment, a reproach, an annoyance.

Today I planted catmint in the cutting garden and sowed opium poppies.  I thought of my father and of my mother.  My mother would have loved to wander around the garden with me looking at what was growing, admiring the shepherd's hut and the new field shelter/summerhouse/sedd maes!  She would have loved to watch the swallows and to go through photographs of the six new grandchildren who have been born since she died four years ago. 

Today, my lovely much missed mother and father, is for you.

Comments

  1. No words really, beautifully written. My lovely much missed Mum died just over two years ago and my Dad became ill soon after. His decline has been rapid and I’m trying my best to make what we have left the best xxx

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    1. Hard to find words to know what to say. All that I can think of is that having tried so hard to do our best proved to be a help afterwards. We knew that he knew we loved him, as I am sure your father does.

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  2. I don’t really know what to say that doesn’t sound trite. It is a beautiful tribute to your love for them.
    Mary

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    1. Thank you. I really appreciate your taking the time to say something, especially when, as you say, it is hard to know what to say!

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  3. I remember - if from a distance. But we felt for you all and willed you on in the hard hard time.
    Hope today is full of happy memories as well as the hard ones, and contentment with yourself that you loved so well and showed it at such cost. Xxxxx

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    1. Thank you Anne. That is a lovely phrase about living so well.

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  4. That they both knew they were loved is a wonderful thing.

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    1. It is and I am totally sure that they did.

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  5. These dates stay with you always and it’s good to remember and honour your parents, knowing you did everything you could to help when it was needed. So lovely too that you feel ready to rescue the garden and enjoy what you have in your life now x

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    1. Thank you. It has taken some time. It is four years since my mother died and two since my father. But I think you are right that I am somehow ready for something now

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  6. Elizabeth, I'm reading this as I head to Australia to visit my 85 year old father. This will likely be the last time I see him, so your words are poignant. I too got my love of gardening from my dad (and my mum) and it's a connection I cherish. I have no garden right now, having finally gotten divorced and sold our house two years ago, but I am amassing container plants for my apartment balcony, with a fervor. I realized yesterday that what I am doing in this is grounding myself against the struggles in my life, through the plants, their soil, their leaves, blooms and scents. It is such a nurturing activity that a therapist I knew once said to me that, in taking care of plants we take care of ourselves. I haven't followed your blog recently but plan to catch up in the next couple of weeks.

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