October 3, 2008

Garden Therapy


When R's mom began sprucing up the house in The Woods her mother-in-law suggested she plant a shrub in the plot on the north side of the house. She said it would grow tall and beautiful. It did not. Instead, it entrenched itself deep into the soil and around the rock wall surrounding it, only poking up its green leaves every so often in weed-like fashion.

I endeavor daily to remove it.

The job, I'm sure, requires a rototiller, but I do not have one, and I tend toward clumsy, best kept far from sharp blades.


While staking the ground with my trowel, keeping one eye on Buckaroo as he wanders the yard picking up sticks and throwing rocks, I've been thinking a lot about The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. My mom read it just after my dad died and suggested I read it, too, but I didn't have the emotional energy I thought it might require. Magical thinking is the self-deception Didion allows herself after her husband dies suddenly.

For example, "I can't give away these shoes; he'll need them when he comes back."
It's a personal and clinical exploration of grief. I haven't finished it yet.

On Wednesday I took Buckaroo to story time at the library where we listened to "Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?" and he played with the trucks and little kitchen while I browsed. I found Magical Thinking on CD, and I passed by telling myself I still wasn't ready.

Later I went back to the shelf, though, and I thought maybe. Maybe listening to a woman's voice talking about grief wouldn't be so bad. I could always turn it off. Plus, Buckaroo and I always have a long drive ahead of us these days.

Didion talks about the "cool customer," the survivor who appears to be doing OK from the outside, but is perhaps not doing so well on the inside. That was her.
I was thinking about this as I shoveled and yanked and tore at the roots in the dirt. "Is that me?" I asked myself, the cool customer? I did not lose a spouse (although I've started to obsess about R's death lately, but I think of Mr. Bennett's response to his wife's worries: "My dear, don't give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may outlive you," and I have to chuckle). Didion said she felt sadness when her parents died but not true grief. It made me wonder if maybe what I'm feeling about my dad's death isn't normal, but then there was nothing about my dad or our relationship that was normal.

I wake up, eat breakfast, change Buckaroo's diaper, make grocery lists, remember to fill the gas tank. I cry a little, but not too much. I've started to listen to the morning news on the radio.

Does this mean I'm OK? Or am I still thinking magically?
I started to compare myself to the soil I was working: The evil plant isn't visible anymore, but the underlayer is nearly impenetrable. How will I plant my bulbs there with so many gnarly roots in the way? What will grow? Is my heart root-bound?

Sweet Potato's great grandmother never grieved. She had one husband institutionalized with schizophrenia and the other die unexpectedly. She lost a daughter to AIDS. She never cried. Later when she became very ill, one doctor told her it was from bottling up all of that grief for so long and that she needed to let it out to be healthy again. I worry about this.

I loaded William Shatner's "That's Me Trying" on to my iPod, and I listen to it repeatedly. It's a monologue/phone call from a dad to his estranged daughter. Hokey, and the dad is still a jerk, but it's the best he can do, and that's where my magical thinking comes in. If my dad were alive he could redeem himself. He could stop drinking, stop using. If my dad were alive there would be time for me to forgive him.

So I keep wondering how he's going to come back. There's so much work to be done.















1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forgiving isn't hard at all. Deciding to forgive is. Your Dad is still with you. There is always time. Plant your bulbs. Maybe you'll be surprized, maybe you'll be disappointed. But at least you decided to choose the hope of a sweet future over the fear of an evil shrub. Happy growing! -FMF