Today’s submission, a personal essay, comes from writer, Eularee Smith of Eugene, Oregon. She is a cancer survivor of 20 years. Her Dad survived stage 4 melanoma for over 30 years. Her younger brother was not as lucky. He died of brain melanoma. Her writing reflects a personal perspective of hope and the joy of living. You can read more about Eularee at http://www.eularee.com
A Sacred Place
by Eularee Smith
My younger brother Barry, passed away unexpectedly on July 1,, 2011, from melanoma of the brain. From diagnosis to death was less than three weeks. He leaves behind a wife, five children, six siblings and both his parents. And a garden.
After the memorial service, complete strangers told me stories of my selfless brother. From being an elderly neighbor’s on call handyman to offering his home to a homeless family for three months while they got back on their feet, Barry’s life resounded.
At one point, my sister in law and I found ourselves standing by my brother’s vegetable garden. Surrounded by a chicken wire fence with a gate adjacent to the chicken coop offering easy access to the free fertilizer. A common thread in our lives was the garden and our chickens. He and I would eat, breathe and talk gardening.
Together we stood silently staring at the hoe leaning against the gate where he last left it. My sister in law shared with me that she didn’t know how to garden.
“That was Barry’s sacred place. He would let me sit and watch but I was never allowed to do anything,” she said tearfully. “I don’t know what to do about the garden. It’s dying.”
I told her that was what it was supposed to do. The gardener was gone. Mourning the loss of its caretaker, the tomatoes were curled with withered blossoms, most of which had fallen to the ground. The peppers were stunted. Lettuce gone to seed and all were thirsty and sad looking.
It made sense to me that the garden was reflecting the tragedy of my brother’s death. At one point during the last weeks of his life, he said he knew he would never go into the garden again. Unable to leave his chair, let alone pick up the hoe, he looked at the garden through the window. If pain medication dulled the physical symptoms of the cancer, I believe that seeing his garden, even if through a window, eased the pain of the gardener’s soul.
When I had breast cancer, I planted an area of my garden with alyssum, a small white flowering creeper, shaping the letters G R A C E. I spent hours in the summer of 1992 in daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments. And just as importantly, I spent hours in the garden, keeping the weeds out and the growing letters trimmed neatly to spell out the blessings of my garden. It was as necessary to my fight as the chemo cocktails dripping into my arm. There were five women who I came to consider friends as we battled cancer together during the summer of 1992. Of the five women, I am the only survivor. I am a gardener.
I believe the garden reflects the gardener. Each is dependent on the care and the nurturing of the other. A simpatico relationship that grows and dies not only in seasons of the earthly calendar but also in the heart and soul of the gardener who tends it. I thought about taking the standing hoe to the weeds that flourished while the gardener was away but somehow, that didn’t seem right either.
I will give my sister in law a few books on gardening and she can take her time reading them. She can browse and wander through the pages and perhaps she will see my brother, the gardener, between the chapters on tomatoes and peppers. And then when the season is right, she may pick up the hoe and introduce my brother’s garden to a new caretaker. When the winter frost gives way to the new buds of spring, the gate will open and new life will bloom once again in my brother’s sacred place.