Lessons in Deadheading

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deadheading flowering plantsThe Western equivalent of raking sand in a Zen Buddhist garden may be weekend appointments with yard work — landscape responsibilities. It gets me out of my home office of endless demands, and even out of the house where there's always a basket of laundry taunting me or spider webs snickering in fresh corners.

Raking our xeriscaped 1/2 inch Apache pink gravel-covered yard (to remove the week's pine needle hairiness) allowed rumination about the early Saturday morning phone call. My friend, and neighbor a few doors around the corner, was leaving in five minutes for rehab after an incessant series of small strokes since his biggy about a year and a half ago. He's 88. Been everywhere, done everything. World War II pilot trainer, flight instructor for United Airlines, farmer, orchardist, geologist…I can't mention them all. His wife is healthy enough to drive him the 45 miles to his new home for 2-4 weeks for double doses of physical therapy.

I also thought about Ruth, a friend since she was my college art teacher. Also 88. Healthy – no medications whatsoever. But she's outlived three younger siblings—the orchid we sent still in bloom from the last loss. Another younger sister is in the hospital for unknown reasons, except she can't breathe. The prognosis doesn't sound good.

Then there are my in-laws, 88 and 91, who've lived in the same house for 45 years and swore, only a year ago, they have no interest in moving into an independent living apartment complex. Mom got home from the hospital after pacemaker surgery on a Saturday. That night, she went back in where it was discovered she also had a broken hip. More surgery, more weeks in the hospital and rehab. That medical merry-go-round crashed into Mom's consciousness, "We're selling the house and moving to Arizona."

Gravel raking completed, I checked on my desert flower rock garden. The heat had taken a toll on most of the blossoms. I pulled the nippers out of the yucca fronds where I'd stashed them and began snipping off the dry, gray flower heads and stems. "This helps more new flowers grow," I said to my 2-year old neighbor and friend Bella who often joins me in yard and garden work on most weekends. I can't stop myself from passing on the little I know to the next, or the next, generation, because so much independence is being lost from the time when people did things for themselves.

"Makes room for new flowers" I said. The precious little Bella, who'll soon turn three and speaks with earnest reasoning said, "Dig the hole a little deeper, Lin," when we were transplanting flowers from the nursery. "No, that's enough water, Lin." (Insanely, I followed her advice and it took the plants a month to recover from the shock of transplant; but, who knows, they might have died had I not listened to a two-year old!)

Bella now has a little sister – Ren – just five months old. Cycle of life and all that. Yes, the oldest pass on, making room for the newest. But we don't "deadhead" our oldest. (Flowering plants don't have opposable thumbs.)

Our eldest and weakest deadhead themselves, as my mother did only 3 1/2  months ago. They make bad decisions, become careless with their health and safety or clamp their lips shut, thus refusing both nourishment and medication. They know it's time. (Though Ruth's mother lived with Ruth and hubby till age 103. He wrote, "Doesn't she know it's time for her to let go and let me have a life alone with my wife?"  He passed almost on the same day, just a year after she, in only his 80's.)

What does it all mean? How does nature present a cohesive and harmonious law or set of laws? Is there one set of rules for one species and different rules for others? I don't have the answers. But it's something I think about almost every day now with our rapidly declining friends and relatives, and more on weekends when yardwork fosters philosophizing.

Gotta go. The phone is ringing.

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