One week before Paul died we spent the day working in the yard. I remember sitting on the edge of the flower beds removing mulch and weeds while Paul raked the front lawn. It was our new cat’s first venture to the great outdoors and she took a bit of enticing to leave the front steps so from time to time we’d stop working and play with the cat. We walked around the yard making notes about what needed to be done for spring cleanup and sketching out designs for a couple of garden and seating areas. When we were done we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch under the cedar trees with a bottle of chardonnay.
Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
The day before Paul died we’d walked around the property again to determine what we’d tackle the next day. Then we headed into town where we purchased a chainsaw so that the following day we could fell a couple of trees and start trimming back the clumping of cedars around the woodshed. We knew if we got the trees down early enough the wood might be dry enough to burn this winter.
After Paul died, I couldn’t bring myself to work in the yard. The vegetable garden didn’t get planted, the flower beds didn’t get tended, and the lawn didn’t get watered. Eventually, it all became so overwhelming and I didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to tackle it all. But it needed attention so I eagerly accepted an offer of help.
A woman I work with came over at the weekend – husband and yard implements in tow – and helped me get things cleaned up and ready for the snow, which will be falling before I know it. They arrived early Sunday afternoon and while her husband began clearing debris from the roof she and I began clearing weeds and fallen leaves from the flower beds. And all of a sudden I was replaying those conversations Paul and I had in my head. As I raked leaves and pine cones and picked up fallen whips from the birch tree I couldn’t help but think that Paul should be there with me; that we should be working in the yard as a family – piling up the leaves for the kids to jump in, harvesting the garden’s remaining crops for preserving, getting everything ready for the cold winter months to come.
I started looking around the yard remembering that we were going to put a fence up over there and create a little grotto area with a bench and foliage where we could sit and read on a lazy summer’s day. And over there, that would be the rose garden that I promised Paul. We would have built a bench swing for that branch on the weeping birch; over there is where the soccer pitch for the kids would have gone, and that would have been the expanded patio for barbecuing.
It was painful to acknowledge the terrible state I’d let the yard get to, but I felt better after seeing the results of a hard day’s work. And then three days later I got a letter from the town’s maintenance crew reminding me that I needed to trim the cedar trees as the overgrowth is starting to block the view for traffic approaching the intersection. Someone in town has offered to take care of it for me, and I’m pleased about that, but it was quite upsetting knowing that we were planning that task for the day Paul died.
It’s been difficult to look around the place knowing that we bought it specifically to raise a family and now I’m on my own. We fell in love with the dream, and I’m living in the nightmare that remains. I go back-and-forth on loving it here because of all the lovely memories and hating it here because of the painful knowledge that the future I’d hoped for is gone. I feel guilty for not taking better care of the yard, especially after Paul spent so many hours last year making it so nice. Part of me hopes for an early snowfall so that I don’t have to think about it until the spring. And the rest of me prays I have the strength needed to take better care when the snow melts next year – or at least the foresight to hire a landscaper.