What We Leave Behind

The other day I was up at my brother’s old cabin, which I have taken over to restore as a writing and painting retreat.  I’ve let the landscape go wild and crazy, the way it was when he and I first saw it more than 30 years ago. While my mother managed it, it was a Pennsylvania Dutch model of a neatly groomed yard. But to me, it was always supposed to be wild. There are peonies that pre-date even my brother, that are now tangled with roses gone to brambles. There are also some inappropriate juniper bushes that I am thinking about just digging out and dumping somewhere. But this year the grass hasn’t been mowed, and I like it that way. The other night, I watched as the fireflies lifted from the grass like sparks as the dusk fell to darkness.

But in the morning light I noticed what looked suspiciously like gladiolas over by the old wishing well (yes, this was originally a magical fairy abode, or so my brother and I believed). Gladiolas? There is only one person who could have planted those and that would be my brother, who died of AIDS 27 years ago. He was one of the first to go from AIDS. And he was the type of guy who never had a dinner party without a fabulous vase filled with gladiolas.

It became clear as I trudged through the long, soggy grass for a closer inspection that before he went (he was only 30) he planted gladiolas that—shockingly—still bloom, even though there is absolutely no logical reason they should. (In my planting zone, Zone 6, you are supposed to dig them up every fall, put them somewhere they won’t freeze, and replant them in the spring if the mice haven’t eaten them.) You can’t blame global warming because I remember at least two blizzards in those intervening 27 years during which we had 3 feet of snow.

Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, I asked my brother’s partner, with whom I am still close, if the two of them had planted them. “Yup,” he confirmed. “We did.” We looked at each other in the way people do who have been through everything together and are no longer surprised by the mystical or magical things that the universe throws our way. “Well, they are still blooming,” I confirmed.

I don’t know what it means, if anything, but I do know it has got me thinking about what we leave behind when we are gone.

People leave behind all sorts of things: stories, songs, recipes, works of art, or quilts and blankets that wrap our children up with love. Some people leave wounds that need to be healed, and some people leave lots of junk. But everybody leaves something. No one lives on this earth without leaving a “wake” behind them, like a boat that sails the sea; the ripples may eventually dissipate, but all the other boats and swimmers feel the rocking.

My brother’s things have long since been sorted through and given away (although, when my mother died, she had saved quite a few things that were hard to throw away: his wisdom teeth, a pair of glasses, and an odd assortment of bits and pieces that no longer hold much meaning). But the gladiolas speak to me not of death and passing, but of life, ongoing life. They’re a reminder that while our time here is finite, what we leave behind can linger long after. What we plant may just keep on growing.



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15 Responses to What We Leave Behind

  1. Diane August 15, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    A lovely reflection. “What we plant may just keep on growing” is a worthwhile thought to keep in mind as we consider our daily interactions with people.

  2. jo August 15, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    beautiful. thank you.

  3. Anita Lucarelli McLean August 15, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    A lovely read, a beautiful memory. My younger brother died last month. I see him now in every day, and evening, in the nature of things. The sky, the clouds, the stars and my mind. He was so full of life and happiness, that all around me speaks of his being.
    Thanks so much for your thoughts. It was very comforting to me today to read about your brother. I remind myself of the peace they are experiencing in death.

  4. Grace August 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I just lost my mother in June. She loves plants and gardening. Lilacs, hydrangeas, and a fistful of lily-of-the-valley flowers will always reduce me to tears because I remember her clipping those flowers from the garden and bringing them into my house whenever she visited. I would like to think that her spirit lives on in my garden.

  5. kao August 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    simply beautiful.
    thank you for sharing xo

  6. Donna in Delaware August 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I feel at peace with what said. Beautiful stuff.

  7. Sarah stack August 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    You write so beautifully of your brother and his essence which remains with you and around you. Thank you for your thought-provoking essay which has me contemplating the responsibility of our interactions and what we do and will leave behind. “Leaving wounds to heal”…wow, that’s something to take seriously; thank you!

  8. Nikki Lindqvist August 16, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    So lovely.

  9. Linda August 17, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Such a beautiful story….
    “No one lives on this earth without leaving a “wake” behind them” This is so true, yet many do not realize.

  10. Cindy Mathis August 20, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    My daughter Stacey died this past Tuesday the 14th of liver failure at the age of 41. She left behind her smile. And of course little goofy things she collected. She also left three beauitiful young adults that have been amazing. Now it’s Monday and the service is over, I’m all cleaned up from the luncheon and I’m left with all these pictures and memories.

  11. Steve August 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    That was very touching. My family has a cabin that my parents built at least twenty-some years ago up in northern Minnesota on a small lake that my sister now owns. The memories I have there, along with my children, are priceless.

    Thank you for sharing!

  12. Cathy August 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Thank you for the beautiful story with such lovely words. I lost my brother many years ago, this reminds me of him. I treasure my memories and appreciate you sharing yours.

  13. jess carvalho August 29, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    thank you very much.. for a moment in life .. we trip and fall.. people like you .. reach out to hold.. very touching …

  14. Sally Thierer August 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    We lost our eldest daughter Amanda five years ago to cancer. My surviving children, one of whom works for you, lost their precious sister. Your story touched us deeply. What Amanda left behind was a legacy of love for her family and a stubborn optimism, even at the end of her life. And a six year old little girl who comforts us more than we comfort her! We planted a butterfly garden in our yard in her memory and have become true believers in keeping chemicals out of our bodies. She died from synovial sarcoma, which is now being linked to pesticide use. This is what she left behind for us. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. Your siblings know you and understand your crazy family like no one else ever will.

  15. Gloria Diaz April 2, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    I lost my Brother in August, last yr and I carry with me his picture with his beautiful smile every where. Thank you for that lovely moment in time … I honestly think that the Glad-I-olas were there to greet you back home and say “Welcome Sis” to remind you (not that you needed to be reminded of it) of the beautiful time you all had together. What a Beautiful Story. Thanks for Sharing it with us.

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