The space looked like it did once before while looking like it never did.
Gone is the agave, the “Green Giant,” attentively watched for months as the leaf, stalk, and flower put on their respective performances.
The leaf, once standing tall and sturdy and razor sharp, flopped to the dirt in decline until stiff and brown and hardened in a final resting spot.
The stalk, once deep in the core waiting on time,
surged to the sky assuming a towering stance as arms branched forth to support a final act of flourish.
The flower, once buds of potential, opened in a seeming climax of massive yellow blossoms
until upstaged by the true crowning point, the bursting from hardened pods of thousands of papery seeds, fragile heirs now blowing in the wind, fighting to find fertile ground to sow lasting life.
The performances changed the scenery forever.
The garden, now devoid of the physical form of the agave that greeted and fed us for so many years, appears empty in the way when we first formed the rock edge that prepared the bed for the agave to grow.
However, it can never be seen in that way again.
The life of the giant marked so many pieces of me that the view of the space where it previously stood, and everywhere else I look, can never be seen without the presents from its presence.
At the end of the journey, I recognized the lesson of the heart’s intertwined path of joy and grief that bolstered my heart to not break.
This gift from the giant is the lesson I must carry with me as I continue to walk along the road.
Part two is about the path.
How do I walk each day acknowledging the path is paved with both laughter and tears so I can open the gifts as they are given and walk strong and unwavering throughout the journey, not just stand unbroken at the end when looking back?
If I learned the lesson — “living” through sadness and joy — then the answer comes down to how I choose to walk.
Yes, my heart aches, but can I let the ache in my heart comfort me — for in knowing my heart can ache attests that my heart can also sing, and celebrate, and love, and delight?
The challenge is to respond with strength and without complaint when both claims on the heart — the cry and the sweet song — happen at the same time, like a butterfly swiftly flitting from flower to flower, working tirelessly to nourish, while every dainty wingbeat casts a vision of the creator’s conviction that grace should be the view when going about the task.
My task of caregiving for my mom tests the lesson.
Caregiving for a loved one with dementia is not rewarded with a course to recovery but is caregiving in the context of continual decline rewarded with a final call to home.
Words are spoken in the halls of a dementia facility, “this was not the plan” or “I did not sign up for this.”
Words are also spoken in the halls of a dementia facility, “I’m there for him because he would have been there for me without question.”
Regardless of remark, the response to the task is the measure of whether the lesson is practiced.
It is not an easy practice session.
The task to tend is crazy — A book in the freezer, eyeglasses found in the flower vase, daily “shopping” sprees to any room with an open door.
The task to tend is hard — Screams never heard from my childhood mother, profanity across the lips previously protected by a working mind, stubbornness and determination with no understanding of the fight.
The task to tend is sad — Anxious days of worry without clarity of purpose, tears of sadness without a known target, and loneliness because every moment needs someone for it to make sense.
The task to tend is funny — “What a cute little puppy,” said to a visiting porcupine, underwear worn over the pants, eating soup with a fork and a sandwhich with a spoon.
The task to tend is perplexing — Hymns sung word for word while rarely recalling my name, reading fluently with no comprehension, longing for home but unable to know which one.
The task to tend is loving — Holding hands for comfort, “I love yous” without hesitation, and in the face of nothing familiar, unconditionally accepting the way of the day.
Like an agave with the stalk in motion, there is no stopping the march.
Again, with clarity of a choice, I repeat the question to myself,
“why wither while wondering what might have been when moments of wonder, smiles, and laughter can fill the time we have together and make memories that will elicit smiles into the future, like photos framed on the shelf or stories written in a book?”
So, how do I find the power to endure the practice, not escape, when weakness seems to surround?
Not wishing to rely on the 10,000-Hour Rule to master the skill of caregiving, I turn to faith for a faster training technique — faith that we are not provided freedom from weakness, but that in weakness we are given strength.
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” (Colossians 1:11)
This verse provides a more deliberate practice tactic than counting time spent on the court.
The tactic of turning to faith that God will guide and provide the sufficient supply of strength to endure the task is the believer’s source of power to travel through life and loss with a cheerful spirit.
Still, the heart feels the full range of emotions.
So a father with a fragile heart might find a way to comfort his children as their grandmother was dying, a mother on her death-bed spoke to her son, “Cry, Heart, but never break.”
The father used his mother’s poignant words to title a children’s book — a tender book about responding to grief, recognizing the good, the painful, and the meaning they can bring to each other.
In the book, Death visits with four children before he heads upstairs to open the window for their grandmother’s soul to fly away.
In a strong, sweet voice, he tells them a story to help them understand death and use their tears to find comfort in their hearts.
He tells of two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, who lived in a gloomy valley, and moved in a woeful way, and never looked up.
He tells of two sisters, Joy and Delight, who lived above the valley and spent days full of happiness they could not enjoy.
Only when Sorrow met Delight and Grief met Joy did they find great happiness, and each couldn’t live without the other.
After imparting his wisdom that opposing emotions of the heart come together in our lives, he tells the children it is the same with life and death, and then quietly says to let their tears of sadness help them carry on.
With the giant gone, and my mother in decline, the surrounding space will never be the same, but pairing the aches with enjoying the joys is the challenge to endure the human experience, unbroken and with grace.
Not to wither, and not alone, I work to make memories for frames on the shelf.