The first summer without my sister I ran and cried and sweated in our nation’s capital. I quit my job, packed my bags, and moved three thousand miles away. I grew no sunflowers.
The second summer without my sister I logged many miles on the roads, slept very little, trembled with anxiety, and took our new puppy to the dog parks where we could both burn off energy and smile at strangers. He entered my life at a time when I was at a loss for knowing what to do next. He looked like this.
The third summer without my sister I lived in a home where we built a deck and my husband cleared a space for a garden. All I planted that season were sunflower seeds. I sat on the deck every night with a glass of wine watching the empty garden space and rocking our new baby.
Before my eyes the seeds took root and the magic that is found in a garden began.
In a large patch of dirt, shoots of green began to grow up, up, up, and much like Jack’s beanstalk, they appeared to reach the clouds.
By summer’s end this was our garden.
The fourth and fifth summers I grew fewer sunflowers but they were no less spectacular. And I still cried almost every night, but sometimes just for a moment when the tears threatened and sparkled and I’d blink them back and inhale sharply to make them disappear.
The sixth summer our sons were three years and one year old, respectively, and I planted dozens of seeds, but only a single sunflower grew that season.
Had birds stolen the seeds?
Did my garden get flooded by Portland rains just one too many times?
I sent loving thoughts to the one brave bloom in the earth, but it didn’t last the season. One day I went out to find it crumpled on the ground, its seeds scattered by a squirrel or a crow. It was attacked. I tried to keep the entire incident in perspective (it was just a flower, for goodness sake), but I confess feeling really miserable about the loss of this particular flower.
The seventh summer after my sister died I managed to grow about half a dozen sunflowers in a patchy sort of amateur arrangement.
This year marks the eighth season of light since she left us.
My husband tenderly prepared the space. Together our boys and I planted the seeds, and most took root within a few days. Tiny, vulnerable shots of green began to appear.
The stems broke through the earth.
The fragile stalks grew tougher as they reached for the sun.
Today the light signals the plants to flower and the garden offers transformative healing and gentle hope in the presence of the sun.
This is what our garden looks like today – mid-season. We are on our way to a burst of color from at least thirty sunflowers, miniature, tall and giant.
P.S. We’re also growing a bit more in our humble garden. Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and a jalapeño. We’ve already eaten all the lettuce.