A few weeks ago I got a call from my second cousin Terry, whom I adore, letting me know that her mother, Donna, had had a massive stroke, this one even more serious than the one she suffered some years ago which left her unable to speak other than a few select words. Terry explained that things didn’t look good and while we hoped for the best, we prepared for the worst.
Unable to fight an infection that set in, Donna passed the next week. So, along with my mom, we drove up to Los Gatos last weekend to be with Terry and help in any way we could with the celebration of Donna’s life.
As things sometimes go, two hours into the drive, I realized that my suitcase had not made it in to the trunk – Murphy’s Law was kicking in. Then, somehow, I merged onto the wrong interstate and, once we realized we had traveled a half hour in the wrong direction, had to turn around and get back on the right track.
These are the times when the weeds seem to be taking over the garden, and you have to try hard to see the beautiful flowers amongst the inevitable sticky thorns of life.
I use this metaphor because my aunt Donna was an avid gardener. After her stroke in 2003 that left her without the ability to say much more than “wow” or “yes,” her garden was a place that brought her great joy and she tended to it with care. It is hard for me to imagine the dark days she must have had to overcome not being able to speak the words that were in her mind, unable to escape the ravages left behind by a clot in a blood vessel to her brain, and how her garden must have been a respite when she needed it most.
Over the years after her stroke, it was a struggle for everyone in her life – her family, friends, physical therapists – to try and understand what she wanted to communicate, but eventually she would get her point across one way or another. She was determined not to let her condition slow her down and always had a huge smile on her face.
In a fitting tribute, everyone invited to the celebration of life that Terry planned in the garden at the History Club of Los Gatos was asked to bring flowers from their gardens. When a friend explained that all she had were weeds in her yard, Terry told her to bring them anyway, that just as with life, a garden is made up of the good and the bad.
No weeds arrived, but a slew of colorful floral arrangements did. An impressive array of hydrangeas, roses, amaranthus, iris, heather and sunflowers were brought in celebration of Donna. From our garden, I had managed to keep a small vase of mandevilla alive long enough to include them amongst the dozens of vases that filled the patio with love.
The morning of the service, Terry and I went to Donna’s home, where she cut a slew of flowers from her mother’s garden and we managed to put together some truly beautiful bouquets of her favorites. It was a beautiful tribute to my aunt. As people shared their love for Donna, some pretty funny stories were recollected, and I was reminded of how, despite her disability, she managed to enjoy her garden of life despite the omnipresent weeds.
Driving back to Newport, I thought about Donna, her garden, her smile, her love for her children and friends, and it occurred to me that while death is the one weed none of us can purge from our gardens, we are given the opportunity each day to enjoy the many flowers that surround us.
I think my Aunt Donna would agree.
Lynn Selich can be reached at [email protected]