For months I noticed — and successfully ignored — our withering potted plants. My husband, Bob, the green thumb, took no notice at all even though I pointed them out to him. Finally he said we should tackle this repotting project together. "But we should just throw them out," I said. "They're practically dead anyway." No. We soon came home with new, larger pots and huge bags of soil.
As I began to cut back all the dead leaves in preparation for repotting, I became lost in thought. One year ago, our 21-year-old son, a junior at the University of South Florida, returned from a one-week adventure in San Francisco. Before starting summer classes he spent Mother's Day weekend with us. It was a great Mother's Day. I made him do the shopping for our steak dinner. I requested extra hugs. He, his sister and two friends spent the night and stayed up late talking and playing music upstairs. At 2 a.m., Taylor decided to go for a spin on his motorcycle. He was just going around the block. A half mile from home, he "failed to navigate a curve," as the newspaper article said, hit a curb and was hurled from his bike into a railing. His friends heard the accident and woke us up. After the 911 call, we rushed to the scene. Taylor was already gone; blunt trauma to the neck had severed his brain stem. His helmet was cracked and of no protection for such an impact. We beat the paramedics and police to the scene. No parent should ever have to witness what we did.
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Grief is hard work. You get distracted. And so the plants that had once flourished at my son's funeral were now withering in their pots. Some say that our greatest spiritual growth comes to us in our greatest pain. I believe that. Our spirit and our faith can die or thrive. It is a choice. For me, now a bereaved parent, do I die away or do I nurture my spirit and thrive despite the tragedy and loss?
As we clipped away half or more of each plant, then placing each into a bigger pot and fresh soil, I realize I have pruned away a lot of unnecessary activity this year in order to heal. I've spent more time in nature, walking outdoors instead of going to a gym, doing yoga instead of shopping, letting go of anything in my life not serving my healing. I now allow new growth through my journaling, prayer, attending my bereaved parents group, spending time with Bob and my daughter, Megan, fostering friendships with Taylor's friends; even my work has become more meaningful.
My heart can grow bigger. My son's death took a part of my heart away, but if I do this grief thing well, I can become a better person for all the pain and suffering.
I'm glad we chose to revive our plants. I learned a lot today, even though I don't like to get dirt in my fingernails.
Connie Pike is a speech and language pathologist in private practice in Apollo Beach. She specializes in treating spasmodic dysphonia, a severely handicapping voice disorder. She also helps other bereaved parents learn to live with their pain and loss. She can be reached at email@example.com.