Velvettes garden1I’ve spent some time pondering, trying to come up with the reason why our garden came
to be. In the early weeks after our son Jimmy’s death, my mind was in a fog. Coping daily, trying to run a household and look after his younger siblings was a monumental chore. The idea of adding more chores, more decisions and work seemed almost absurd.

I grew up on a farm with my hands and my toes in the hot summer dirt. It seemed a comforting thought to be able to spend my time outside in this manner again. It was more like something to do to make me feel better, than an actual plan to create a memorial garden. As the idea came into play, I discussed ideas with family members about what to do, what to include, how it should look. My husband wanted to incorporate a pond as well.

We decided to fashion the garden into the shape of football goalposts. Jimmy was an athlete and a die-hard football fan. He loved to play and to coach football and he knew all of the stats on each player on both of his favourite teams. The space in between the uprights would be a walkway path through the garden or a seating space. As the plan started to take shape, many close friends and family contributed a plant or a tree, rocks or ornaments to symbolize their love for us and for Jimmy.

The first summer I was totally focused on building the garden and organizing what would go where. This was a big job, and was good to occupy my mind during the beginning months of my grief. As time went on, it was a comfort to see the bushes blooming or the trees turning colour or the vines overrunning their space. It felt good to go outside and have my quiet time where I could feel extra close to him. In the early morning with the dew still heavy, to pull a weed with a dark clump of earth attached and have that dirt turn out to be a snake still curled up and asleep plopping onto my feet. Good for a scream! Then a smile as I picture Jim laughing and shaking his head at that sight.

Each season brings its own special feeling. The hot earth in the summer; sometimes dusty and waiting for water, produces the most beautiful colours and flowers and smells. A place for the birds to nest and raise their babies. Bunnies and chipmunks, mice and toads. Dragonflies, bees, spiders all visit or make their homes at times in this special place. Some of these I like more than others but they all put a smile on my face in their own way.

As the heat of the summer turns to fall, the temperature cools, the colours change and also the amount of time and work required to weed and water and tend slows down. You can sit back and admire and appreciate.

I used to dread the winter, the cold, the dark and desolate. During a Family Guide call one evening, one of the volunteers had a different perspective for me to learn from. He said that this is the time for rest. For the plants and trees to rest so they can become strong and to be able to grow when the warmer weather returns. To be able to look out the window in the winter and see snow and ice covering the bare branches and to be able to think of this as a time of rest, of shoring up energy, gives me a sense of peace where I used to feel sadness and thought it to be depressing.

Velvettes garden2It’s exciting in the spring when the weather starts to warm. To spread the mulch and feel the excitement of what will be soon growing out of the earth, and to try to remember what will be coming up and where. Will it be bigger, stronger, a different shade? To hear the wind rustling in the ornamental grasses and to smell the fragrances on a breeze makes me happy. These are the times that I feel most connected to my lost loved ones. As the years have passed, I have also lost other important people in my life. This has been a way for me to incorporate them as well. During shopping trips I always have my eye open for that special ornament or piece or stone that brings a memory to life in the garden. A concrete boy reading a book, an iron mosquito, a twisted corkscrew hazelnut tree, a stone engraved with Roll Canes. All have special meaning. It’s not a morbid memorial site. It’s a living, changing, moving-in-the-wind, shadows-cast, always-changing special place for me to sit in, work in or just smile at through the kitchen window while I wash dishes at the end of the day.

The garden is a beautiful space on our property but it has provided me with so much more than its beauty. It has been a salve for my soul in a way that nothing else could have been. It has brought me warm feelings and memories of times passed. Relaxation and work at the same time. A type of meditation, of clearing my thoughts, of planning for next year and of reflecting on what has been accomplished.  The physical work, the sweat, the exercise, the sunshine, the wind, the bug bites and thorns in my fingertips. All of these things have made me feel and made me cry and have given me a connection to my missing loved ones. A continuing bond, a way to feel a connectedness even after many years have passed. To keep my memories and feelings and communication alive each season and each passing year.

Velvette Sandford
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