standing still: on grief, gardening and slowing down.
As we inch into the second year of my daughter’s passing, I’m finding myself at a standstill.
The reality of what has happened to us hits me on a weekly basis. A photo I haven’t seen in awhile grooves new channels into my healing heart. Never again will I see those eyes crinkle, and that familiar milky brown glow. Her brother’s eyes darken with each passing month, but hers remained an ephemeral brown. He will outlive her and outgrow her. I brace myself and also feel the intense weight of this miracle.
And so, I slow. I savour every moment with my son. I am finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the mundane race. To keep working and pushing and stressing and staying in the loop while he clings to my leg.
I listen to audiobooks on food, farming, homesteading and traveling instead of numbing out on Netflix every night (but let’s be honest, some nights are reserved for couch crashing). I thumb through books about loss and grief and painful life experiences. I am both nurturing my dreams and reliving them. I am learning to lean into the quiet and be less afraid of longsome days. Instead of thinking: what do I need to do right now instead of this? I let myself be still. What’s more important than being present, staring at the sky or listening to the wind chimes or deadheading flowers in the garden? Even still, my pulse quickens and I start to feel like a failure…for no good reason.
I am striving. To stay numb or busy or make myself better.
But when I slow, I wake up. In an effort to curb my grief last year, I sped up. I filled my life with distractions, some really wonderful ones, but I let my edges numb. I coped and I carried on, and found time to live with my grief. But, I am constantly reminded of how difficult motherhood is when time is limited, when work piles up, when the calendar fills.
“Slow down,” my heart whispers, “you will miss it.”
When Florence was alive, we spent much of our time at home. We lived a quiet life, dotted with some intense, fast paced traumas that would wipe us out. But my slow days spent by her side and around the home taught me how to garden, how to write through my tears, how to appreciate the seasons from our plot of grass in the backyard, and how to take breaks. Rainy days meant extra snuggles and extra cozy jammies. Sunny days meant the windows would be flung open and we would go for a walk around the neighbourhood to pick some flowers.
I baked bread for the first time and made kombucha in sour, sweet vats on the counter. I stuffed zucchini blossoms; I found the time to pick a bushel of them before they rotted on the plants. I trimmed each stamen and washed the delicate petals. With a tiny spoon I stuffed them with whipped goat cheese, dipped them in a bubbly batter and fried them. My fingertips stung as I sprinkled on coarse salt, sliced open by the zucchini slivers. The first time I did this, we ate them on the patio, Florence laying near our feet on a mat as we watched the summer sky for birds. I remember it so well. The thrill of just being together. The miracle of simplicity. The summer evenings at home, no pressure to go anywhere or pack up for the long weekend.
With nursing support and the odd meal from church folks or friends, my life with Florence became a magical bubble where I was focused on her and she was focused on me. I miss this bubble but I also miss how we lived. I want to be like this with Theodore.
I still pinch myself when Theodore wakes from a nap, and I smother the curve in his warm, sweaty neck with kisses.
He is alive. He is not dying. How can I squander this gift of time I have been given with him?
After Florence died, we sped up because we could. I felt dizzy the first time we left the house without fear. I was dazzled by this new experience of packing a suitcase and leaving town. It still feels weird to snip ourselves out of our life at home, and plunk down somewhere else. I initially felt like I was betraying Florence, but we found ways to include her, and we still do. Eventually, I got tired of going away and craved the comfort of home. Comfortable, safe and predictable home. I’m learning to appreciate both situations, but after being a strict homebody for three years, it’s a hard habit to break (stress-free).
I am slowing down, so that life can catch up with me, as I gently peel myself away from the face of heaven and sink back into the arms of earth.
One thing I know for certain: life is too precious to waste. This doesn’t mean I must climb all the high mountains and search for success. No, it’s the opposite. It’s about paying attention to the simple moments that truly make life beautiful. Like deciding to buy fresh, fat blueberries at the farmer’s market, just so we can bake giant muffins in the afternoon. Or sitting outside and instead of being distracted by an iPhone, we watch the ants crawl over our toes and chalk up the entire sidewalk with colourful X’s and O’s. It’s slowing down to see the bumblebees drink nectar from the blossoms, close enough to see their fuzzy stripes and stick my nose in Teddy’s ear so I can whisper wonder. It’s taking time to pluck each and every arugula and basil leaf from their stems, so that I can blend them together with elephant garlic and golden olive oil and relish in the taste of homemade garden pesto. It’s feeding garden peas to a sweaty faced toddler and sitting on my haunches as I watch him grow up right before my eyes. It’s reading lazily under the sun, even just for five minutes. It’s curling up on the couch at nap time and writing or not writing.
It’s simply about turning off the pressure to accomplish.
Before I know it, my son will be grown. I know this is an breathtaking feat…but I also know how easy it is to speed up and dive right into busy. Florence changed the pace of our lives.
She slowed it all down, letting each day caramelize until the otherwise overlooked moments were sweet and wholly satisfying.
I want to honour her legacy and continue to live as though tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. So we must slow down. We learn to say no. We learn to trim the fat, to unplug, to simplify. We learn to ask for what we need and listen to our guts.
Grief will continue to magnify the sweet, simple things that bring happiness, which lay in wait all around us.
Photography: Katie Cross Photography