The Spaces that Hold Our Gardens and Barbs

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This post is part of the #wholemama summer series started by blogger Esther Emery. Last week’s theme was SPACE. Even though I didn’t write in time to add it to the Tuesday link-up, there are posts focusing on “space” from 20 amazing women on Esther’s website.

IN MEMORY OF SOMEONE WE LOVED

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

There was a small space in between the moment I knelt beside my weedy garden and I grabbed the stinging nettle…in between the startling pain, like four bee stings to palm and fingers, and my excitement over the discovery of the medicinal plant growing wild.

There was a space in between my contemplations about how life does this to us, startles us into a heightened awareness, and my mother’s phone call.

Five minutes before the phone rang, I was sitting on the patio nursing my wounded hand and talking to my daughter about my cousins not being able to make it to my son’s wedding in September. Five minutes later I was sobbing, because my mother was telling me that my cousin’s wife had drowned and had not yet been found.

There was a space in between the time B jumped off the pontoon into the cool-for-July Wisconsin lake and the frantic search when she didn’t come up again…in between the sun glittering on the surface and the deep brown water with its soft bed of silt.

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It is in a million small spaces we live so much of our lives, always on the cusp of some decision or occurrence.

Maybe a word that leaves the tongue with an arrow’s twang. Maybe a step off a peak that alters the next 10 years. Maybe a happening unnoticed, quiet as a mouse fleeing unseen from cupboard to hole. Or maybe an act as simple as pulling clover and grasping instead a handful of barbs.

I drove my mom and dad the six hours north for the wake and funeral. We have traveled this route many times since I was two years old. Mom and dad spent their honeymoon with this side of the family when my mom was 18; and last year, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here. This has been our space for family vacations and reunions and river trips and weddings, and sometimes a funeral of a life well and long-lived. 

As we have often done over these many years, we stayed at the home of the eldest of my eight cousins. He surrounds each house he lives in with gardens.

In those spaces we wake up with the tiger lilies to early morning rain and dark coffee, and we chat over dinner against a backdrop of tall Blazing Stars and the feathery, purple clumps that serve as thrones and tables to Monarchs.

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The morning of the funeral, I wander about the yard with my grief–mine like dusk over the yellow Black-Eyed Susans and B’s family’s like the oppressive noonday sun. She loved flowers, so this is a good place to think of her, as the early daylight reveals the veins of the leaves and the fragile strands of spider webs, as carefully and intricately spun as our anticipated futures.

In a garden, I always sense a respite, instead of my toes curled over the edge of something, whether a happy springboard or rocky ledge. Surrounded by growing things that “give no thought to what they will wear,” time lingers, mesmerized by scent and silk.

Here God makes room for me to take a deep breath, even though the entire earth is milliseconds away from a rotation that will turn this yellow softness to white hot.

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At the church, my eldest cousin gives the eulogy. It’s lovely like his gardens, and we even laugh before we give way to weeping. He reads a poem that B had hanging on her wall for many years called The Dash by Linda Ellis. It recounts the words a man speaks at the funeral of a friend. Referring to the date of birth and date of death, the man says that all that matters is how his friend lived out “the dash between those years.”

We primarily measure our weeks and months and years by events–the hair appointment, the electric bill, the wedding–noting all the black and white “words” that make up our stories; but not paying as much attention to the spaces that help make those words understandable.

I have been trying to pay as much attention to the spaces–both in place and in time–as I am to the words, because the spaces are so integral to the story…

…the green pastures and hills unrolling before us as we cross the Illinois border into the north

…the expanse of front porch where five cousins huddle around a small table to eat blueberries and listen to the rain

…the thin line between another cousin’s hand in mine as we stand at the gravesite and defy the distance that once existed between girl from the Chicago suburbs and girl from the dairy farm

…the ever-widening gap between my children and my cousin’s children due to the miles and generations

…the months that will pass like a blink between the goodbye kiss my eldest cousin plants on my forehead and the embrace he’ll greet me with next summer when we stand in that same space beside the flowers 

…the gap in the back porch steps where a tiny white flower springs like hope in the darkness IMG_3870

Whole Mama
Graphic: Caris Adel

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Writer | creative non-fiction & YA fiction Developmental Editor | Moody Publishers

11 thoughts on “The Spaces that Hold Our Gardens and Barbs

  1. Such a beautiful tribute, and a good reminder to take in every moment no matter how mundane we perceive it. I am so sorry for your family’s loss, and hold all of you close in love and prayer.

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  2. What a beautiful tribute Amanda to a lady I now wish I had met. Yet even as I write this to you I think, I have met her since I knew your grandparents on Mom’s side, known Carl and Lynda and watched as you grew into a lovely woman in your own space . Which you fill with tenderness and beauty. You have the gift of family, that is priceless. Our Lord is always good.

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  3. Amanda, I could read this post a million times. Thank you for sharing this story, and thank you for the beautiful way you’ve shared it. I felt like I was in the story and in the garden with you. I’m sorry for your loss – these words always feel so weak no matter how heartfelt, but what else do we have? Please keep writing.

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    1. I always rebel against “themes,” yet it has been amazing how one word takes on deep meaning as you consider in in light of a week’s events. Thank you for always commenting and reading…and for you expression of sympathy…they are in no way weak words.

      Liked by 1 person

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