The Spiritual Gardener: Love and Loss

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It is time for our daughter to go off to college, and the college she chose is far away. Here, some comfort from the garden. 

It is time for our daughter to go off to college, and the college she chose is far away. So, last Saturday, all four of us went to Spring Lake for the day to celebrate our last weekend together before our daughter goes off to college. Later on Sunday we all went to Mass together and after the sign of peace I gave her a big hug and whispered “We are going to miss you,” and both of us had tears on our eyes. She admitted the prospect of going off to college was exciting when it was months away, but rather intimidating now that it is so close.

Our hearts are rather full these days, with thoughts of how much we mean to each other and with all the unknowns that change will bring. When it was time, I drove her and my wife to the airport, and then it was all over, she was gone.  Ah me, this saying goodbye to your children, how hard it is.

Luckily, I had a distracting event planned, something I would recommend to all parents sending a kid off to college. My son and I drove out to York, PA for the wedding of my godson, and we preceded that with a trip to Gettysburg. We watched the orientation film, toured the cyclorama painting and then toured the battlefield in our car with a CD narrative that supposedly explained everything. The official narrative was rather incoherent, I thought, but one definitely receives the feeling that this is hallowed ground and that the character of our nation’s modern future was made right here, on this very battlefield. It was very moving to think of all the suffering, mayhem and death pouring back and forth over this now peaceful, bucolic landscape.  Goodbyes, the joy of a wedding, the history and sorrows of Gettysburg: poignant autumnal emotions roiled near the surface all weekend and I was borne along on the turbulent, sweetly melancholic current.

Meanwhile, back home in the garden, the very first three or four blooms of the helianthus were open when we arrived yesterday afternoon, the apricot rose is re-blooming with surprising vigor, the cleomes are still going strong as are the phlox (both varieties now) and the cannas. I spent two hours watering all the thirsty specimens, then cleaned out the badly weed-choked and honeysuckle-choked corner of the yard, clearing away two huge trash bins of debris. This emotional weekend drew to a close with a rare and wistful martini on the porch where it was pleasantly cool, then dinner with my excellent son. Happily, he accepted the rather large job of keeping my spirits up with his usual good humor and philosophical resignation.

How full the heart of a parent can be. Naturally, I have been musing on parental completion as our family begins breaking up a bit, but also on a vocation partially fulfilled, the fullness of the year in this heavy season, the general fullness of life too, the ties that bind us to those we love, and so on.  My son and I went to the airport to pick my wife up yesterday when she returned from taking our daughter to college. She fell into my arms, crying, after holding it together pretty well, she said, on the long flight from Texas. So we had a tender family hug there in the airport, all three of us.

It reminded me of a similar occasion seventeen years ago in Denver when my wife carried our then one-year-old daughter off the plane from Washington. I was thrilled to see them home at last. and we were finally together again after our complicated move to Denver. But my wife was in tears from a harrowing flight, holding our crying daughter tight in rough turbulence for four hours. How the years all compress themselves: two tearful airport embraces elide into one, during which our lovely daughter mysteriously grew up and went away to college. How is that even possible? How can that have happened so quickly?

This summer, it has been very hard for her to say goodbye and harder for us to let her go. Of course, we accept that she has to go and live her life apart from us; that is the way it is supposed to work, after all. But every parent knows these feelings of love and loss; they go to the core of what it means to be a parent and to the very heart of what and whom we love, and why.



David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.