Returning to the Garden
— Life —

Returning to The Garden

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En route for an early walk at the dog park, my phone buzzed with a new message. Opening the email, I felt my mind and body pause for a moment, stunned in reflection.

“Sara,” it read, “Last year you ordered a gift for Elizabeth. At the time you indicated this was a Birthday. As a courtesy, we’re reminding you that the 13th is approaching. We’d love the opportunity to again give something special on your behalf.”

My Aunt, Elizabeth, loved flowers. Her gardens were her solace, and she spent hours, every day, from the first thaw to the first hard frost, caring for, and tending to her flowers. Always covered in smudges of dirt, she constantly bore remnants of the earth with which she had engaged earlier in the day. She knew every varietal and perennial, what grew where, who needed shade, or what colors were best served by crushed eggshells rather than specialty manure. Sending her flowers was more than just picking up the phone. It involved a discussion and thought process, and the people at Winston’s always seemed appreciative of the request for extra care and attention to the details and meanings of the blooms that would compose the art and music of her floral delivery.

Last year I had sent my Aunt a birthday bouquet, but just moments before reading the email reminder, I was thinking I needed to call Winston’s and order a bouquet I would place on her gravesite. I made the decision to bury her ashes on the 13th, the day that would have been her 93rd birthday. It was stunning to me–but perhaps that how energetically these things happen–that I could be thinking about needing flowers for Auntie’s grave, and then moments later, a reminder of what life had looked like one year prior assaulted my senses.

The space and time continuum never ceases to amaze me. She passed away less than a year ago, and yet, it could have been a decade, a lifetime, or an eon, since she passed. The void created when she died seems larger and more significant than the one that came to be when my parents passed. Perhaps because she continued to hold the history of our family; she knew the secrets and the nuances, appreciated the significance of a moment or interaction without having to be told the context. She was there for me, emotionally and physically, at a time when I was never certain of the response that might come on the other end of the phone or text or email chain. She anchored me to a routine that was comforting and predictable, and placed in a framework of righteousness, the choices and decisions I made at a time when I had no other relation to call my own.

The flowers I chose for this year’s bouquet were purple and white. Rather than being shrouded in meaning and significance, they were simply beautiful, appealing to my senses. When we arrived at the cemetery, the hole had been dug for us, but the attendant forgot to leave behind the shovel so we could fill in the dirt after placing her ashes. My children looked around for something we could use in lieu of a trowel, and collectively, we decided to just use our hands to scoop the dirt back into the well of earth. My daughter looked up and said to me, “Auntie would have liked this. She liked getting her hands dirty.”

Yes, she would have liked the way we returned her to the earth. I think she would have liked the flowers, too…


8 Comments

  • Kristen Sanders Smyth April 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I love this and I love that you got your hands dirty. I’m a gardener, something I inherited from my mother. Every year Winstons reminds me about her birthday, too. I spend a lot of time discussing what to put together each year. You make
    me realize how fortunate I am to have such choices to make!

    • esrcornell May 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Kristen. I was never much of a gardener but I do appreciate flowers and the stories they tell. We’re so lucky to have Winston’s. They truly are artists!

  • Jen Lawrence April 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your aunt.

    • esrcornell May 12, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Thank you. It’s nice to be able to talk about someone special and let them live on in ways one never expected…

  • Esther Zimmer April 26, 2016 at 6:33 am

    This is beautiful, in particular the part about using your hands and your daughter’s comment. You’ve made me think hard about who I should send flowers to now, whilst I still can. Thank you. Esther xx

    • esrcornell May 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Thanks for your comment. It makes me smile to think about the ways in which my children remember their grandparents and the older generation, as these are the memories they will pass along to their children…

  • Susan Tolles April 27, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Your story is so inspiring! I dropped a little bouquet by a friend’s house today just to let her know how much I appreciated her. She was so touched, and said she really needed that lift in spirits. So glad I obeyed my intuition! “Say it with flowers” is timeless.

    • esrcornell May 12, 2016 at 11:49 am

      How thoughtful! Flowers always make my day – even ones from the grocery store! Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad your friend had a lift in spirit.

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