Recently, I have taken advantage of our gorgeous Indian Summer by riding my bike to work. The foliage is brilliant this season, and my route consists almost entirely of bike path, which is laden with maple and oak trees. As I pedaled home on Friday, there was a slight breeze blowing, and this, combined with my modest speed, caused the leaves to come at my diagonally, hitting me in the face, sometimes poking me with a sharp edge. This was a little disorienting for the first few minutes, but after several batterings I was able to dodge the leaves by bobbing my head from side to side.
Autumn is, hands down, my favorite season. But this year, it is, like the leaves, tinged with sharp edges. It’s impossible to think of autumn without thinking of Dad. He adored this season. When most people were lamenting the passing of summer, Dad was shopping for mums and pumpkins, adhering leaf decorations to the windows, making flower arrangements in vibrant oranges and yellows. So now that the season is here, the absence of Dad is palpable.
And today would have been Michael’s 34th birthday, which makes the air feel even heavier.
Dad dealt with his grief over Michael by tilling the soil. He visited the cemetery nearly every day, tending to the flowers he would plant according to the season, sometimes adding a photo or a trinket. He was as attentive to the tiny plot in front of Mike’s headstone as he was to his luscious lawn. By doing this, by feeding the soil and nurturing the plants, he was able to take care of his son in a way Michael never allowed him to in his last years.
Since Michael’s death, I have spent every October 14 in the company of my family: usually, I drive up to
This year, with Dad gone, Kaytie, Joey and I decided to carry on Dad’s tradition of working the earth as a way of healing our souls. Joey dug up the perfectly-planted impatiens that had blossomed so beautifully all summer, thanks to Dad’s extraordinarily green thumb. Kaytie and I bought mums and pumpkins, and set upon the task of adorning the front of the house (and, later, the headstone, which now belongs to Michael and Dad).
I love gardening, love digging up soil and planting flowers. That said, I have inherited nothing of Dad’s plant panache. After a couple of hours of work today, the mums I planted looked scraggly and ill-spaced, compared to the impeccably groomed flower beds of my memory, and to add to the sense of comic chaos, I dug so hard into what I had thought was a rock that I broke a valve on the sprinkler system, and water came shooting out at me and into the flower bed, flooding the hole I had just dug. I yelled to Mom, who thought I was running from a bee. Once I had gotten my message across, she searched the basement, trying unsuccessfully to find the correct valve so that she might stop the shower. She found it after ten minutes or so, and we had a good chuckle. I imagined Dad groaning, good-naturedly, over the state of his front yard.
In spite of the mess, it was therapeutic. I feel closest to Dad when I’m working in his yard, digging with his tools, my hands in the gloves that used to be his. I marvel at his organization. I aspire to his sense of perfection, though realistically I know I’ll never achieve it. His yard, his shed, my family’s house: all are a reflection of Dad’s love and devotion to his family.
So, we were grieving two family members today. But also celebrating lives, remembering birthdays, and enjoying each other’s company, however briefly, however chaotically.
Happy 34th, Mike. Love ya.