Actually, I have been gone for four days and was worried there wouldn’t be much of a garden left. About two weeks ago there was a microburst in our neighborhood and the garden was pretty beat up. The tomatoes especially had branches twisted and torn. The plants began to revive with lots of watering, organic fish emulsion, weeding, trimming the dead and dying branches, extra propping up of plants. I put this focus and attention into the garden on a daily basis. Then I got a call that my mother had fallen out of bed and was at the emergency room in Ann Arbor.
I drove in, about four hours from Chicago. My sister had just returned from her vacation in Alaska and had been travelling home for some 30 hours. Much of my mother’s care, though she lives in assisted living, is taken care of by my sister. I came in to help— both my mother and my sister.
My mother looked as if she had been in a prize fight. She was bruised around her right eye. Her top lip was purple and there was a streak of purple running from the right corner of her mouth down past her chin and into the wattle of her neck. She needed stitches on her right eyelid. The medical personnel detected a small bleed on the right temporal lobe of her brain and decided she needed to be carefully monitored for a few days in the neurology ICU.
My mother experienced the proverbial ICU delirium— vivid dreams (hallucinations?) and confusion, but then slowly came back to herself. On the morning she was released to go to a rehab facility I watched a nurse give her a bath. She looked so utterly vulnerable and with other bruises from her fall fully exposed — a rich purple, light yellow, and green fanning across her right breast and thigh.
When I was younger, my relationship with my mother was difficult and complex. I was often very afraid of her yet equally attracted to her charismatic personality. I was drained by her persistent and overwhelming anxiety and simultaneously filled by her imaginative capacity to be carefree and unfettered. I was driven away by the passionate force of her anger yet drawn to her sharp sarcasm and ability to make others laugh. I couldn’t wait to leave home.
As my mother has aged and become dependent on all of her children, her edges have softened (mine have too), and our relationship has become quite sincere and whole-hearted, even intimate. My younger self would have been shocked that one day my connection with her would become so deeply honest, open, and loving.
Harvests are funny things. Sometimes we have to pass through microbursts, drought, and many, many seasons — but with consistent nurturing, weeding, and mutual propping up, sometimes the bounty, though unfathomable at first, is immense.