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Awareness Garden

July 24th, 2004 · 1 Comment

The other day, when we saw a dead deer at Port Blakeley, the girls asked

Did the deer have cancer?

I searched my memory to discover the connection they were making in their minds. The deer was dead. And my brother died from cancer.

The girls don’t remember Uncle Jim. Only Abigail met him. They don’t know his story, how he suffered from a brain tumor as a baby.

But the other day I had used the word “cancer” and told the girls that Uncle Jim had died from it. I had to explain to them why I had stopped the van at the library and asked them to wait for me while I talked to someone.

A library newsletter sent out this summer described how gardeners are planning to create a place to honor and remember those who have suffered from cancer. Part of a new parking library lot area will be set aside, and anyone who wants to participate and donate a plant can join. The idea began when a local woman, an islander and gardener, died from breast cancer. I’ve heard that some seeds have been donated, pink plants or flowers.

That day I stopped by the library, the one organizing the garden, author and speaker Ann Lovejoy, wasn’t accessible. So I called her later from home. How strange it seemed. Not only was I intimidated to talk to her for she is a celebrity of local and regional reputation, but also it felt awkward to mention my brother. It felt strange to start conversations with strangers by mentioning his death. I realized, as I stumbled in my speech, how little I talk about Jim. I write about him. For years I’ve written poems, essays and now posts. I loved him and he impacted my life. But it’s something different to start talking about his death. To acknowledge immediate in his identity that cancer took him away from us.

Whenever the subject of Jim somehow comes up, and I try to explain his life and death, I don’t know how to react to the expressions of sympathy or silence I receive in return. It’s not an every day kind of conversation I have with strangers or even friends, not like discussing the weather or the age of my children or the state of the neighborhood. The depth of emotion required isn’t appropriate for casual tones. I’ll talk about it. I want to talk about it. I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen: I believe in talking about life and talking about truth. But it isn’t always easy.

The Awareness Garden is in its planning stages. We have time to consider whether we want to participate and what plant we would choose for Jim. The more I think about the garden, the more I like the idea. To sit, meditate or stroll through the plants, each one significant, each one symbolizing a life cancer affected. To think about the common experience, how many lives have been impacted by the disease, and to think of the survivors drawing together to create a living memorial, a place of life and growth, of flowers and greenery, bees and birds. To see all the plants and walk past each one. To experience the power of the public statement.

I think of myself too, as I walk through this imagined garden, and what I need to do for myself. One objective of the Garden, as its name reveals, is to encourage people to be Aware. To take care of themselves, observe their own bodies, do preventative exams and take proper precautions. To be aware. Sometimes I think I’m a busy mom and I don’t have the time to eat right, exercise, put on sunscreen. But as I imagine this garden, I hear these plants speaking to me, in a sense, telling me to slow down. I am a busy mom. But I need to treat my body well and do my best to stay healthy. So I can continue to be a busy mom. So I can keep enjoying my family, and, I hope, live long enough to be a busy grandma. I owe it to my family to be aware.

I like the idea also of planting something living for those who have died. Perhaps the girls and I will buy some seeds or a small plant sometime soon. Perhaps we will put something in our garden here to remember the deer.

Anyone interested in participating in the Awareness Garden can contact Ann Lovejoy in September.

Tags: gardening

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Helen // Jul 25, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Hi, I came here through Katherine’s blog. I like what you had to say about the garden. I think that is a really neat idea.

    I lost my mom to cancer when I was 19. I am now 41 and a “busy mom” like you. 🙂 When a life is lost we never forget. I like the idea of liviing reminders.