Recently I stepped out onto my balcony, taking in the view I love — the garden just below, the trail and stream behind it. The view is different now, altered forever by one of those random events that seem to happen with greater frequency as I grow older.
Bee and Don had been my neighbours for almost two years. Their apartment was directly beneath mine. It allowed us to talk easily, with me leaning over my balcony looking onto their patio. A sort of strange Romeo and Juliet plus one scenario that took place most mornings, each of us early risers.
Our friendship evolved slowly. It grew and flourished, as did the garden they so lovingly planted for our community. We all helped of course, but they were the roots and fertiliser. It survived two tornadoes, a flash flood and drought. We created a butterfly sanctuary and had hundreds of butterflies, even watching them hatch! It became a home for various wildlife and beautiful birds. People walking their dogs or just strolling along the trail that bordered the stream behind the garden stopped to look, pleasure and amazement registering on their faces, a few moments of serenity in their busy day.
They were one of those long-married couples others envy. It had not been an easy life, but they raised three successful children and their grandchildren were thriving. What made them special was their relationship. They were best friends. They could spend days alone together without the need for others, enjoying one another’s company, bickering and debating, still in love. They were vegetarians and physically active. Healthy and vibrant. In their early-70s.
Unexpectedly, Bee began to lose weight from her already slim frame. Then, she had difficulty breathing. A trip to the emergency room. Then, back home. Poor air quality, they said. Stay inside when it gets bad. And drink more water. It would be okay.
But it was not okay.
After another occurrence, Bee entered the hospital on August 3rd for what the surgeon said was a relatively common and simple procedure — a blocked artery he felt could be handled without a stent, although that would be the back-up plan. She would be home within a week and resume normal activities as soon as possible. Of course, the disclaimer — there is always a danger.
Naturally, they were frightened. But strong. Bee said Don was ‘her rock’. They would do this together. There was so much left to do. So many more years to enjoy.
Bee came out of surgery that morning. She spent a few minutes talking to Don. And then she died.
Their apartment is dark now … all the blinds closed, the lawn chairs on the patio folded away, the bird feeders empty, the hose and bags of fertiliser standing ready — unused. Don is with his son and family in Florida. He is struggling.
The garden remains. We have tried to tend it, but the normal change of season has taken its toll and most of the flowers are gone. The butterflies have made their incredible journey to Mexico. Many of the birds have departed for warmer climes. Few people pause as they walk the trail. Those who do say a kind word of remembrance or shake their heads sadly.
I don’t know if any of us will plant the garden next year. It will never be the same, of course. And yet, I know that the bulbs will bloom next spring. Daffodils, tulips, crocuses, lilies and irises will push their way to reach the sky. The forsythia will flower. The butterfly bushes will be home again to those beautiful insects. Maybe some of the annuals will have reseeded.
Bee and Don were not religious people. They were, however, so much of what faith teaches those of us who are — kind, compassionate, helpful, wonderful parents, great neighbours, and concerned about the world.
Perhaps it is fitting that the garden is what remains of the time they spent with us. They took dirt, shovelled, hauled, planted, fertilised, watered and tended no matter the weather. Not everything grew. But so much did! How beautiful it was! A life lesson for all of us!
I look out from my balcony once again. The sadness closes in. The air is chilly. I turn reluctantly, go back inside, and hug my sweet, beautiful, purring cat.