A little over a year ago, right after I was commissioned to write a chapter for The Sacred Table, (a book about ethical eating), I serendipitously got a plot in the community garden across the street from my home in Brooklyn. I titled my essay, which is about community gardens, “Getting Back to the Garden” as a homage to Joni Mitchell. Among the many topics I touched on was how the garden is a metaphor for life as it cycles through the seasons and teaches us lessons on decay and the fragility of life. Rather than focusing on death, we can choose to look at it as life-affirming in that “nature recycles itself through composting. Dead plant material that has decomposed is in fact rich in nutrients, breathing new life into a garden.”
I had just completed the chapter when in mid-June, unexpectedly, my 93 year old, totally independent father, fell. He spent the next six weeks in the hospital, alert, yet frustrated by his immobility. I spent that time on automatic pilot: traveling back and forth to Philadelphia, renting a car at 30th Street Station and driving out to the hospital to be with my mom by my father’s bedside for ten hours a day, then returning the car and traveling back to New York City. My mother did the same thing seven days a week for that period of time, only leaving my father to go home to sleep.
For my birthday, in the first week of July, my mother sent me a set of gardening tools sophisticated enough for a master gardener. She and my dad had always gardened, so she was excited about my new venture. My daughters, working in the Berkshires at their summer camp, sent me a wooden hand-painted plaque that read, “Mom’s Garden” with various veggies painted on it, which I placed prominently in my garden.
During the six weeks, one day my dad was up, one day he was down. All along my mom and my brothers and I were making plans to move him to a rehabilitation facility where he would receive more needed care for his eventual recovery. Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, I found solace in my little garden and the tasks needed to nurture it: watering, pruning and harvesting. Much to my delight, from my little garden sprang life: plum tomatoes, Indian eggplant, basil and a rainbow of begonias. But what I would never have guessed was that while I was watching my garden thrive, I would be watching my father die.
That was one year ago.
My success with the garden inspired me to want to improve my skills and expand my yield this summer. When I went out to my garden plot this past spring, I discovered that the wood of my raised garden bed had rotted out as the fall and then winter settled in and the vines withered. Since it could no longer be used for planting, it has now been designated as the collection bin for the compost for our garden’s new composter, generating fresh soil to nourish new plants. Talk about driving the metaphor home about my dad’s legacy and the life cycles of a garden!
I will forever associate my garden with the summer I lost my dad, and I will be mindful of what I wrote in, “Getting Back to the Garden”—that nature recycles itself, breathing new life into the garden. One of the most comforting sentiments people shared with me after the loss of my dad, is that a person you love is never really gone because they live on in the lives of the people they’ve touched. And so, like my plants, my loving and selfless father, is recycled daily through all of us.