Thursday, December 1, 2016


Azalea, Rhododendron subsessile, Luzon, Philippines

It's been six weeks since my mother died. In that time I have dealt with enough BS, enough detritus from the termite-ridden hoarder house, enough estate financial mess, enough unresponsiveness from CPAs, argued enough with hospice people that they already took their equipment. I have had friends and loved ones tell me how they are going to help me instead of asking how they could help me, until I said "Enough already, how about you listen." I have listened patiently until I can bear no more as people helpfully tell me that I should think of how happy she would have been that Trump won and that evil Hillary lost and that it's a shame she didn't live long enough (in agonizing pain) to have seen it and then quietly said, "Enough already." I have caught ten of her cats, put one to sleep, found a home for three, and worried about whether I'll have to euthanize the other six, a mother cat and five kittens, because no one seems to want them. (Everyone coos and says how sweet they are. Possible home for the mother cat, against all odds. No takers for the kittens, though.) On the heels of finding homes for two and euthanizing one of my friend's cats back in the spring, I can definitely say that my sentiment in looking for homes for ten cats is, "Enough Already."

All of these things have been rough, but somehow I anticipated them because my mother never dealt with any of these things. Because she was ever fearful of everything but everything that could take her out of her bubble, the bubble where even catching a female cat that kept having kittens and getting her spayed was too much of a risk because "then the cat won't trust me anymore or let me pet her so what's the point." (Point would be my not having to bottle feed four abandoned kittens in one litter and find homes for five of them in another litter.) Yes, it's been good times. I laugh darkly when people ask me if I'm grieving and bite my tongue to keep from saying "I'm too effing busy to grieve."

I guess, if you read this blog, you know I also anticipated the loss of my mom's huge, sprawling, beautiful but overgrown garden, which was more like a forest by the time she died because she had been unable to work in it for more than two months by that point. But I had plans, and had asked her friend and fellow gardener to help me remove some of my mother's precious plants to use them in her own garden. I was assured repeatedly that everything was set with the friend. I had also arranged for my mom's yard guy, post removal of the special plants, to severely trim back things from the walls of the house, which will be tented for termites on December 5, and in general to make things more navigable. I blithely went away, sure it was all taken care of. The friend's gardener was going to dig things up. The friend's gardner knew what he was doing. In spite of the English/Mandarin language barrier, and the Mandarin/Spanish barrier. The friend. The gardner.  My mother's yard guy was going just going to trim things back. This was all going to work out okay. All the irises, all the special ground orchids, but especially the rare plants, would be taken care of.

Boy, was I naive. 

So when I showed up on a Monday morning, one month after my mom died, and saw the rare and difficult to cultivate, endangered azalea from Luzon razed to the ground, I cried. The special Chinese imperial jasmine that was hard to cultivate, was in similar circumstances. They were supposed to have been dug up and carried safely away to their garden haven. Where I expected big holes in the ground, instead I found corpses of my mother's beloved plants. The fragrant, heritage gardenia, grown from a cutting of my grandmother's favorite gardenia? (You know about me and my Irish grandmother, right? You go check out modern gardenias with your nose. Like modern roses, they often have hardly any scent. This was from a plant that was growing in my grandparents yard sixty years ago. And growing gardenias from cuttings isn't easy...) The gardenia was broken off at ground level and uprooted, instead of being pruned back. I was really just too stunned for words. I'd already been dealing with a house in which every time I turn around I find some fractured (literally) relic of my childhood, whether a little marble bust of a child reading a book, or a genuine wedgwood vase or the large mineral specimens from my collection that my mom snagged from my room while I was in graduate school and placed precariously in her garden and then allowed to get broken. I'd already seen so much memory from childhood broken. But this just took my breath away. My friend Maria was one of the only people that got it. She stood looking at the tatters of the garden and cried with me. 

Mammaw's Gardenia

I guess the wreckage of the garden is final proof that Mom is really gone. With all her quirks, her bubble, her Fox News love affair and her infuriating ability to deny reality and be passive-aggressive with me all while asking for my help... It still felt like a vise had gripped my heart. As much as I resented her, I still loved my mother. And that garden was the most important thing in her life. Immediately, my husband and a bunch of other people told me 1) I tried so hard, 2) the cats were more important, or 3) my personal favorite, it was just a bunch of plants. 

Maria was spot on, in her hazy English: It is too awful. It feels like she died all over again.

Azalea, Rhododendron subsessile, Coral Gables, Florida

Yesterday I was in a store and I saw a packet of Cherry Rose Nasturtiums. They were my mother's favorite color for these annuals. It's a variety that is usually hard to grow. She used to pierce each seed with a hot needle to fracture the shell a bit, to make it easier to start the seeds. She'd always grow a few extra to give to me when I lived in my former house, which had better gardening space. I looked at that packet and just started crying. A store clerk asked me if I was okay and I said "not so much." 

Grief is the oddest thing. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed and resentful and exhausted, it still finds something to steal from you when you feel there is simply no room for anything else. It can still take your breath away.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2016

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