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Friday, January 20, 2017

Dementia: Spring Story

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Spring Chicken Soup for the Soul Story
When I was little, I often helped my mother plant our family's garden. As soon as the chilly winds of Chicago winter gave way to spring, Mom would be outside with a spade, seed packets, gardening gloves, and a secret smile that had been hibernating all winter. That smile never seemed to shine as bright as on those first few days in April when she squatted in the mud with tiny seeds in her hands.
I would pull on my grubbiest jeans, choose my shovel with care, and bound across the yard before Mom could say, "You forgot a jacket!" I would kneel by her side for hours, carefully digging holes and cautiously pushing seeds into the earth with my chubby fingers. We would spend hour after hour repeating the process, until the formerly snow-smothered area barely knew what hit it!
Unfortunately, I grew up. Somehow, I found better ways to spend the first days of spring, and I threw my annual April morning job into the growing pile of childish, outgrown activities. After all, I was too old to kneel in the dirt all day planting some silly seeds. I came to the conclusion that the shopping mall needed my assistance more than Mom did.
Surprisingly, my mother never said much about my decision until two years ago, the spring I turned 14. I was on my way to a friend's house, when Mom stopped me.
"Would you please help me with the planting today?" she asked.
"Oh, Mom, I was just getting ready to leave," I pouted. "I'll probably be gone most of the day." "Well, could you possibly come home a little early and join me in the fresh air?" Mom asked.
I mumbled something along the lines of, "Uh, maybe . . . I'll see."
By the time I left the house, Mom was already in the garden. She looked up for a moment as I walked past, and from the corner of my eye I saw a certain pain and sadness in her gaze. At first my heart told me I should stay to help, but as I got farther from home and closer to an exciting day of hanging out with friends, I forgot my impulse.
A few hours later, as the sun started to fall from its place in the warm, spring sky, I decided to leave my friends a bit early and head back home.
"Mom usually finishes planting around six," I thought. "If I get back soon, I'll still have an hour or so to help her." I felt very noble for my selfless decision. But when I reached home, there were Mom's dirty boots by the door and a small pile of empty seed packets on top of the garbage can. I was too late.
I didn't think much about that day until nearly a year later.
One of my father's good friends suddenly lost his wife to cancer. The doctors hadn't discovered Sara's illness until it was too late. She died shortly after the diagnosis, leaving behind her husband and two small, confused children.
Right away, Mom went south to visit the family and see how the children, David and Rachel, were coping with the sudden loss of their mother. She spent a few hours with little Rachel. When she came home, she told me this story.
When Sara had received her terminal diagnosis, she asked her husband, "What should I leave our children? How do I give them something to remember me by, a symbol of my love for as long as they live?"
Mom learned the answer from Rachel.
"Mommy made me my own garden," Rachel cooed, as she tugged on Mom's hand and led her outdoors. Sara had decided to plant her children something that would live on long after she was gone.
Although the children had helped with the original planting, it was obvious that most of the work had been patiently completed by their mother. The result was a masterpiece, with so much more among the leaves and petals than simple foliage. A piece of Sara's heart and soul was left in full bloom for her children.
As I listened to my mother tearfully tell Sara's story, I realized the true power of a garden. How had I missed it? Our annual planting was not about kneeling in dirt, throwing in some seeds, and hoping for the best. It was about kneeling there together, planting potential life, and creating the best memories possible out of those moments together. I was so lucky to have a healthy, vibrant, caring mother who was always there for me. As I suddenly realized how badly I missed seeing her soft hands place seeds in mine, many things became clear. I began to understand that the pain I had seen in her eyes that day a year ago had come from missing the little girl who was once at her side.
A few weeks later, I came home to find several bags of seeds on the kitchen table. I knew spring planting was near. The following Sunday, I woke to rays of sunlight streaming through my window. I looked outside to see a figure stooping in the dirt. I threw on the first clothes I could find and ran outside.
The first rays that encircled me were the ones streaming from my mother's smile. The first water our seeds encountered were the teardrops sliding happily from my eyes. We worked together all day and didn't stop until nightfall.
I won't ever miss planting day again.

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