Blessings and Balm

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

I had been walking around like a raw nerve, hurt and frustrated and feeling a bit hopeless. Caring for my father with dementia was starting to feel like an exercise in futility, a thankless job for which I was completely underprepared. I had even penned the dark in my frustration.

But then one afternoon this week when taking a break from the nonstop Zoom calls, I took my dogs for a lunchtime walk when everything changed. Flowers flowers everywhere. Perennials, bulbs, wildflowers in unexpected places all over the place. Some I had seen as they started to come up, but others were a complete surprise to me.

When a dear friend of mine found out what house my parents and I had purchased last fall, she told me about The Gardener, now deceased, the original owner of the house and property. She told me how The Gardener loved to work outside. She was responsible for turning the property into all that it is, from the retaining rock walls to the root cellar to the former koi pond to the park-like areas under the oak trees, and a million other details of outdoor bliss. My friend had told me then that I would discover all sorts of things on the property in the spring.

It's not that I had forgotten this. But over the winter I had gotten distracted by other challenges. I was trying to understand the vision of The Gardener, as she clearly had a plan, which I was trying to not only respect, but further it along. When I had first moved there, I had wondered why the property was covered in raspberry plants, for example. They may had just spread in the ten years that she has been gone, but there were so prolific, I thought they must have had human intention and assistance. Even more curious, for all the plants that were there, I couldn't find evidence of a single berry, not a dried one or fallen one. Until it occurred to me: DEER. But then I wondered if she had planted them specifically to feed the deer, maybe as a way to distract them from her own gardening. Was this her way to live harmoniously with her garden's biggest predator?

I had invited my son's father to walk the property with me, as he has studied natural resource management, while I am just an amateur gardener. He confirmed some of my theories, and prioritized my work: yes, The Gardener had used fencing to protect the younger oaks from the deer, but now that they were larger and could sustain the deer, the fencing needed to be removed for the trees to survive. So I had been moving fencing from the oaks to the new fruit trees. Of course I had noticed the world greening up around me, as after all, I was trying get this work done before the advent of poison ivy. (The poison ivy still won in it's not-yet-bloomed state, but that's another story.)

Then suddenly, countering all the darkness in my head, The Gardener gave me multiple signs of love and hope. Who knows how many years ago she had planted seeds, roots, and bulbs that would light up my world and once again give me purpose. Even though The Gardener had never met me, thought of me, or known me, it's as if she traveled through time just to lift me out of the gutter. And maybe that was the best part of all of it: she reminded me that the work that we do today may not even actually matter today.

When we intentionally do work with joy and love, the impact can continue to reverberate long after we're gone. Put good things out in the world with the faith that more goodness will come from it, and without the expectation of ever getting paid back. The joy is in doing the work - the leading, clearing, caring, planting, building, tending, nourishing, weeding, creating, protecting - and knowing it will result in something good, even if we never see it.

Keeping my father calm and happy might be compromising, exasperating, and no doubt exhausting. It may not even feel like it's making an impact, as my father's dementia isn't magically cured with my efforts. But I have to have faith that I'm still making a positive impact somehow. Maybe it helped a happy, whistling demented man to deliver cold water bottles to the tree service guys working on our property today. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, and he would have delivered that kindness even if he was afraid or angry. This experience might still be better preparing me for something I will need later, or something that others will need from me. I can't know. I just have to have faith.

The Gardener inevitably got to see some of the results of her work while she was still alive, in the daffodils, the blood root, the trillium, the growing oaks. But she didn't get to experience my love and adoration for her, nor did she get my gratitude at getting me through such a difficult week. She had faith that her good work would carry on beyond her life, and for that, I am most grateful. Without her faith, my world would have been much darker.

I looked up her obituary this week just to acquaint myself with her a little more, to send her name up to the universe in gratitude, and this sentence caught my eye: "She enjoyed the deer, birds, flowers, and nature from her home." My guess is that she was feeding the deer. I may need to tend the raspberries.

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