Gardens and August Grief

My dad was a horticulturist by trade. He built our Canadian garden from a pile of dirt, transporting rock by rock to create a small brook that meandered through our back yard. By November most years, everything received a blanket of snow.

In the garden, August 2021

We moved to California in 1966, but Dad died of lung cancer three years later. As a result, he never got to realize his dream of a California garden. I carry Dad’s memory, along with the dirt under my nails and twigs in my hair, whenever I spend time gardening.

My dad died in August of 1969. His sister, and my namesake Aunt Alys, also died in August, but nearly 40 years later.

Dad on the middle horse, India, 1941
Aunt Alys, England 1930

I often feel lost this time of year, adrift in memories and full of melancholy. I’ve learned to let the feelings flow. Today a Google search revealed that a BBC radio show interviewed Aunt Alys’ neighbors shortly after her death. Unfortunately, John and Anne Matthews didn’t share this with me at the time, and now the program is archived and unavailable. So it goes. Somehow it brought about more loss, more tears.

If I could walk hand in hand with Dad on this warm August day, I would show him our garden, name the plants, and laugh about the botanical names that I can never keep straight. I would let him know that his little girl grew up and is now a mother to two incredible young men.

On my family’s porch with my sister Sharon and others in London, Ontario, Canada, early 1960s

He would be saddened to know that Sharon is struggling with MS and that the pandemic has been unkind. The loss of a daily swim has rendered her legs almost useless. Dad would comfort her, and love her, and then he would do something to make her laugh. I miss that, too.

Dad would love my husband Mike, a kind and clever man with a generous spirit and a loving heart.

Most of all, Dad would be tickled to know that I inherited his love of gardening. I would give him a hug and thank him for passing on his passion and his favorite color green to a daughter who loved him then, and who loves him now. I wish we could enjoy time in the garden together one more time.

31 thoughts on “Gardens and August Grief

  1. Lovely Alys. How I wish you and your dad could have that walk in your pretty garden. The days of longing are sometimes extra hard. I’m really sorry you’re struggling this month. You are living a life your dad would be so proud of, I hope you can take comfort in that.
    It’s beyond unfair that Sharon is dealing with so many losses too. I’m always glad you have each other. The physical things being on you, yet I’m sure the emotional support you bring to each other can’t be measured. I wish I could offer comfort in person and take your mind and heart to another place, even just for a while. I love you dearly, hang in there 💛💛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear friend, for your kind and comforting words. This month has been a doozy. I worried about Sharon getting COVID last year, never dreaming it would be the loss of access to the pool that would lay her low. She’s strong and determined and she never gives up, but it’s really hard when your body stops doing the basic things you want it to do. I miss you so much and I miss our planning and traveling year to year. It’s always been something to look forward to. xo I love you.

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      • We will again. When this world gets their act together. Jim and I are longing for Maui. Maybe we could consider meeting there? Let’s pin some hopes on that….beach….ocean…wine…sunny days, Aloha Luv! xoxo

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  2. Hi Alys, what great memories you have of your Dad and the things he enjoyed. I am sure he would be very proud of you and your sister. He would indeed have loved to meet your husband and your boys. I am sorry you missed the program about your Aunt. I know from other blogs how much you loved her. Time just does not heal the holes left in our hearts by the death of those we love.

    I know your sister must be very frustrated by the loss of services and care because of COVID. Certainly the world has been turned upside down in so many ways. Hopefully recovery is not far off and maybe some things can be regained or changed in a positive way.

    I miss my own father. He died of lung cancer in 2007. Seeing how the world has changed, watching my children and seeing the wonderful adults they have become makes me wish I could share with him. Every bad joke I hear makes me want to share it with him. He was the king of “Dad jokes” I miss him. I love him.

    Hope you enjoy a little respite in your garden and hear your dad’s laughter on the breeze. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Amy, I’m lucky to have these treasured memories, along with some of Dad’s scrapbooks and albums. They are a gift. Thank you for your understanding and for your kind words. I’m sorry to read that you lost your dad to lung cancer. Laura, who commented above, said the same thing. It was all too common in the day before we realized the health risks of smoking. I’m smiling at the bad jokes/dad jokes memory you have of your dad. It truly is the little things that bring joy to our lives. xo

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  3. Ah, Alys. Grief always finds a way to seep in, sometimes at regular intervals and others like a sucker punch. The only thing to do, as you know well, is to be with it, move with the weight and the dark. I miss my father often and I had him much longer than you had yours. I am sorry COVID has taken so much from your sister, and because of love, you. I’m sending lightness your way and hope it eases the weight. The garden must be a source of joy and comfort. You look at ease in it–and I love your apron.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lisa, for your kindness and understanding. It’s hard to lose the people we love as a child and as an adult. As you say, the grief seeps in, often around these anniversaries.

      I love my garden and the time I can spend there. Summers are challenging these days with heat and smoke, but I’ve been able to find a few days to work uninterrupted. It’s good for the soul.

      Marlene embroidered that apron for me several years ago. It’s the perfect gardening apron, with large pockets, an adjustable strap and of course the pretty embroidery.

      I hope you are doing well, and enjoying your time in the garden. xo

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  4. Dads are such special people, aren’t they? They never really leave us, and I am sure that your Dad is holding your hand as you walk through the garden. That you still miss him is testament to the love that you had for each other.
    I am sorry that your sister is unable to get the full support she needs. We concentrate so much on COVID as a disease that we forget these hidden consequences.
    Sending you big hugs xxx

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Anne. Dad made us all feel special which is truly a gift. Losing him at such a young age was devastating. I’m happy to have the memories that I do, along with photos and some of his art.

      It’s been painful watching my sister struggle through this year. She is strong and positive, but everything, everyday, is so darn hard. Thank you for that hug. I’m returning it with appreciation and love. xo

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  5. Sending my love and huge hugs, dear Alys. I always see so much of your dad and your Aunt Alys in you, your garden, and the gifts you so generously share with the world, dear heart. I’m so grateful that you share your family stories and photos with all of us.
    May you find peaceful hours in your garden. 💗

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  6. Thank you for sharing these beautiful memories and photos. Certainly you dad’s spirit lives on in the dirt under your nails.

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  7. Alys, thank you for sharing your beautiful memories and photos. Today is the 20th anniversary of my Dad’s death. He too was an avid gardener/horticulturalist and made his love of nature his profession. I also find solace in the garden and would agree that our fathers would be proud of our love of gardening. Hugs 🤗 Diane

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  8. You have some wonderful photos of your family to remember them by, and your love of gardening is a way of connecting with Dad. No better place than a garden to remember someone you love. 💕

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  9. I’m sure your dad is smiling as you wipe the dirt on your apron after working so hard in your garden. They never really leave us when they have such a huge place in our hearts. Grief i a part of life and must be fully felt when it hits. It a good thing you share it with us here to let us help you lighten that load. You had a wonderful father, while you had him. Why isn’t life fair. I’m sure Sharon asks that every day too. Give her my best and hugs to you both.

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  10. Alys, I’m sorry to read that your sister has MS and unable to swim to keep her legs strong. Reading about your memories of your Dad and you having your lovely CA garden when he couldn’t, is very touching. You seem a lot like your Aunt Alys and in this great photo it reminded me of you in theater and how much you like to create costumes for Halloween. My hope is that along with your feelings of grief, the nice memories of your Dad brings a smile to your face. Take care.

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  11. So awful you lost your father when you were so young I count myself so lucky to have had both my parents into their 80s.
    Your post brought some tears to my eyes and reminded me of a song by one of my favourite singers, Luther Vandross, which also makes me cry so I’ll share the link but only watch it if you feel like shedding a few more https://youtu.be/wmDxJrggie8
    Enjoy your beautiful memories. My Dad wasn’t a gardener but my husband is and I hope at least one of our daughters will tend her own garden in the future and think of all the times he tried to pass on his love of plants.
    Lots of love xxx

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  12. One of my most enduring memories of Pa is planting potatoes with him on a Good Friday in the UK when I was in my mid-teens. He taught me that you can clear a patch of land with a crop of potatoes. We spread a thick layer of well rotted horse manure, covered that with a layer of straw and planted chitted potatoes in holes we poked with a trowel. Best potatoes I ever ate. He was a man ahead of his time; we had a composting toilet in the early 1980s before that was ever a thing. It was a monster, but it worked!

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  13. What a beautiful tribute to your father, Alys. Thank you for sharing that glimpse into his life with us. I hope you are comforted knowing that he is with you in your love for gardening, in your DNA, in everything about you. I wish all the best for you and your sister.

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