Sunday I played golf first thing in the morning (7.35 start), was home in time for an excellent Azorieblue coffee, then went to school for a parents’ lunch in the boarding house before checking on the parents’ and girls’ tennis competition. But, with others running that, I was able to get “the best part of the day” (as my wife Claire would put it) and spend it on the veg patch.
Gardening is increasingly feeling like therapy for me. And there is no doubt in mind about its therapeutic benefits. Not only for me, but for my father as well, who I am sure is more likely to spend time of an evening walking around the grounds, gin in hand, taking in the sights and sounds of a well-tended and busy garden.
Therapy is an emotive issue in our family. A year ago Claire was diagnosed with a rare form of Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma – which for those who are not sure (and I would have been one of them a year ago) is basically cancer of the lymphatic system which may, or may not, be terminal. A year of chemotherapy has passed with Claire working her way through the pain, tiredness, hair loss and other grim side effects with determination and a large slice of black humour.
Along the way we discovered a blog called writtenoff.net, authored by a tough young woman called Ellie Jeffery who was suffering from secondary breast cancer. Her experiences and observations chimed with what we were going through with Claire and gave us hope and reassurance. Ellie’s prognosis was far worse than Claire’s and in the time that we have been reading the blog, Claire has gone into full remission and is making steady progress in her recovery from the last intense chemotherapy.
Sadly on Sunday night the latest entry was posted on Ellie’s blog. Written by her fiance, Tom, it broke the sad news that Ellie had died three days previously – finally succumbing to the ravages of the disease. It was a devastating piece of news which immediately brought Claire and I up short – thinking of what we had been going through in the past twelve months and how fortunate we have been so far.
It also took me back six years to the day that my mother died of pancreatic cancer and the massive sense of loss I felt when I walked into her hospital room after her death. It was more than emotional – there was an enormous spiritual absence. It is a feeling that has lived with me ever since, and I wonder if my commitment to maintaining the garden is in some way my delayed response to mum’s departure. Am I perhaps doing it for her. Gardening as a form of memorial.
There is no doubt that by gardening one is able to get in tune with seasons, and get a feeling of one’s place in the world. The death of a loved one – or simply the serious illness – focusses the mind and one can turn in on oneself, but it also makes you view the world in a sometimes more equable and balanced way.
It is too glib to say that Life Goes On. When a life ends it can leave an enormous gap in everyone else’s – but the memory lingers and can be kept strong through the deeds of those left behind. We are part of a broad and beautiful world which at the base level is growing and dying all the time. Planting, watering, harvesting are reminders of the natural order of things and definitely help me to deal with the ups and downs of existence. Such acts would be of little aid to the friends and family of Ellie Jeffery, but our thoughts are with them at this time and hopefully the overwhelming messages of support on her website will be of comfort to them as they come to terms with their loss.