A lot more yard work yet to do

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/13/20

There’s no template, as far as I know, for grief.

We grieve as we must and there is no right or wrong way.

Last Tuesday, the day after my mother passed away on March 2 at the age of 88 after …

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A lot more yard work yet to do

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There’s no template, as far as I know, for grief.

We grieve as we must and there is no right or wrong way.

Last Tuesday, the day after my mother passed away on March 2 at the age of 88 after a decade-long fight with Alzheimer’s, the morning was warm enough and dry enough for me to sit outside on the backyard patio with a cup of coffee and my smartphone.

I depend on that piece of electronics far more than I care to acknowledge, but that morning the phone was a vital conduit to friends and family, and for about an hour or so — the coffee I’d largely ignored had long since turned cold — I read comforting text messages and talked with a couple of friends who had called to offer their condolences and their own memories of my mom.

The texts and the calls eventually went quiet, and after I’d sat there a while longer, doing nothing productive, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what to do.

My two older siblings had handled the funeral arrangements — there had been time to prepare for that in her inevitable last weeks — so there was none of that to worry about.

There was no sense of urgency.

It was almost as if time stood still.

In that stillness of time, I had time to think. And for a while, that’s what I did, remembering my mother in various and odd ways. I thought about her sense of humor, which never flagged even after we’d moved her into hospice care, and her strong will.

And as I did that, I looked around at the back yard. Fallen limbs lay about, casualties of the recent high winds and rain; and the patio on which I sat, I noticed, had begun to spring tall sprouts of grass in between the concrete blocks that form it.

Removing those sprouts meant getting on my hands and knees and pulling each up, one at a time.

I hadn’t intended to do yard work that morning, but laying my phone aside finally, and taking off the jacket I no longer needed thanks to the welcome emergence of the sun, I dropped to the patio and started pulling up the grass and weeds.

I did that for about an hour.

And once I’d pulled weeds and swept the patio clean with a broom, I began to expand the scope of my chores, fanning out into the more heavily-wooded backyard area, picking up all those many scattered tree limbs and breaking them into manageable pieces and piling them to the side of a wood pile to burn later in our outdoor fireplace.

It didn’t feel like grief, at least not at first; but eventually I realized that the yard work was not only a welcome distraction from the heaviness on my mind, it was also, itself, a connection to my mom, who loved being outdoors.

She loved yard work.

She loved it to the point we worried about her continuing to do it in her advancing age. But she wasn’t one to listen to advice she didn’t want and she insisted on doing things — including tending to her yard — her way.

In the last couple of years, as her memory faded from the cruel grip of a disease that doesn’t give up, she and I always found something to talk about in both the weather (always a favorite topic of hers) and the chores our yards offered up.

I inherited from my mom not only my eyes and mouth and nose and humor and love of show tunes, but also a love of the quiet comfort found in gardening and lawn maintenance. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but my mother had equipped me with a template, of sorts, for grieving.

I busied myself that way for the next couple of hours, until the sun went missing again behind gray clouds and a light rain started to fall, and I gathered up my phone and jacket and headed back inside, having done all the yard work I could for the moment.

Like yard work, grief isn’t something that happens once and then you’re done. It’s a process. And it takes many forms.

As my friend and neighbor Jennifer — who lost her own mother three months ago to the same cruel disease — advised me, grief is a day-to-day process.

Losing my mother — though we knew it was coming and had time to prepare — has been tougher than I thought it would be, but those couple of early morning hours I spent with my hands in the dirt felt a proper place to start.

I’ve got a lot more yard work yet to do.


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