Humans feel pain and loss in different ways, and for reasons that are not all the same.
When a loved one dies we all gather around, bringing our empathies with us for comfort. When a pet passes, those who have enjoyed the devotion of an animal share each other’s grief.
Part of what binds us to each other is as much how we cope with the end of living as we do its beginnings.
I am a childless woman. Beyond the age of conceiving, although having spent the majority of my years in the service of young people as teacher, my body is no longer able to generate life. However, I do feel and give love towards all living things. But, because animals usually die before their masters do, and because I have endured the departure of both of my parents, I have opted to raise that which grows in the ground, instead.
Yes; I am a small time, untrained gardener.
Roses were my first love. The large, cabbage blush yellows filled the front porch stairwell with as many as thirty three blossoms every June. I let them reach for the sky, each spring, ignorant of the need for maintenance pruning until the first of a series of harsh winters chose to break one of their sturdy trunks. What was once a flourishing sight was reduced to a fledgling, fighting for life. Now, every time that blush yellow manages even two or three blooms, I am succoured, thankful for Providential forgiveness.
Next came the pinks. These enjoyed their central stage on the front yard, and soon filled out majestically to supplant the blush yellow’s original grandeur. Two winters ago, this bush also seemed vanquished until, having learned my lesson the hard way, I consulted a gardening specialist and obtained the encouraging words that, cutting its branches back, its roots would send forth renewing shoots. My delight at the sight of those first tufts emerging from dry, grey death could hardly be described.
But, my tropical. This one was the baby in the family. I had planted this intense, almost fluorescent orange-red in the back yard, just visible from the side entry. Perhaps it was the soil quality, or the heavy hedge overhang, but this bush always struggled a bit to produce. Maybe this is why I was always ecstatic when its blooms would finally appear. Never plentiful, they were, however, by far the most beautiful of all.
From roses I graduated to peonies and, then, giant poppies. These filled in the remaining front strip across the west facing porch. The bright orange a stand out against their blushing counterparts, these were among my true offspring, and I loved them.
Last week, I took a much needed break from routine and went on a short trip. This was the Memorial Day holiday, my best college friend was preparing to move from the East to the West coast, my godchild was slated to perform, and I had several reasons to spend time with these dear ones.
Before leaving, I secured the house and personal items, and had the yard mowed by two boys who had most recently become available in the neighborhood. Not lazy, I had been diagnosed with grass and pollen allergies years before, and had always resorted to hiring various ones to landscape for me. These brothers were reliable and eager, and seemed able to take my specific instructions regarding protection of the tender vegetation, particularly when they worked as a team.
But, I had noted a marked difference between the two boys. They appeared to be fraternal twins, resembling each other in height and carriage but bearing distinct features and personality. One seemed to be afflicted with subtle limitations and, as a trained teacher, I both recognized this and determined to treat both brothers equally.
So, when only one of the boys appeared a day earlier than scheduled, in the midst of giving private lessons I hastily agreed to let him mow the lawn – calling out a reminder about the rose bush in the back and the poppies in the very front.
I never ventured outside again until the cab came for me in the pitch black of 3:30 am the next day.
My time in Long Island was blessed. A lifelong friendship, the kind that never ends. Saying “goodbye” this time was more about the trip East, with all its familiar vibrancies; our next visit would have to wait until their family was transplanted to California. New garden, new growth.
Returning from the airport, I bounded out of the car and up the entryway platforms to see if my tropical had bloomed while I was away.
The horror was beyond surreal.
My rosebush was gone. Leaping across the deck, I dropped down next to the soil. Two inches of stalk remained, its desperate attempts at regrowth trying to emerge. My baby had been beheaded.
Wailing like a mother in a death ward, I tore around to the front of the house, dreading the sight. The poppies. The poppies had also disappeared. Nothing but stumps, these wet and dark, with no sign of life anywhere.
I couldn’t even stand up.
Pulling myself into the house, I sat for several minutes in mute agony. All the happy memories of the five days away compressed into a black hole, escaping my consciousness. Nothing else mattered; my babies were no more.
Parents are never either prepared or trained. Giving birth is enough of a miracle, and people generally assume that the earnest and most well meaning among us will do a decent job of bringing up their own children. Some let them grow wild, never cutting them down or holding them back, and live with the outcome; still others prune and shape, hoping for some version of sinless perfection in the sight of God. But, even the best parents can’t be ready if, by some act of the universe, their children are suddenly taken from them. Every human wrestles with all manner of conflicting feelings when this happens: rage; disbelief; even guilt. Somehow, something must be to blame for such unspeakable pain.
In my case, the rose bush and the poppies were cut down by a boy who acted obliviously. His capacity for comprehension was not exceeded by his willingness to help; and, the act of destruction he committed was unwitting.
Flowers already know their limitations. In agreement with the earth beneath, they will dig deep, and try to renew, or be replaced by their own next generation. But, I am left, like so many parents, husbands, wives, children, and lovers, to fight the inner battle for forgiveness in the silence of my own, fragile, solitary existence.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
5/27/15 All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you.