There is a story of a pastor who decided to hire a gardener for the poorly kept parish grounds. Year round the gardener worked diligently, mulching, preparing the soil, weeding, planting, pruning and nurturing the plants with great attention, until one day the pastor strolled into the flowering garden with a neighboring priest, anxious to show off the magnificent new creation.

Gesturing to the many different plants and flowers, the pastor said, “I praise God for all of His handiwork!”

With clippers in hand, the gardener stepped out from behind a bush and chastised the pastor saying, “Don’t you go giving all the credit to God. Just remember what this place looked like before I got here and God had it all to himself!”

Attention is a sacred gift. “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself,” wrote Henry Miller.

When we give this kind of attention to others, it becomes a gift of love, one that nourishes and nurtures and helps bring a person into full bloom. When we have this kind of love, our world holds all the beauty of a tended garden. When we don’t, life can become a cold, dreary night.

There was a time when I felt like my world had become an eternal winter, and I couldn’t see beyond the moment in time when my father died unexpectedly, leaving me alone to care for my mother, who was a hospice patient.

But time goes on. Today, it doesn’t seem possible that my father has been gone almost 22 years. Still, each year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the last Valentine’s Day we spent together, him unconscious in a hospital bed, me in tears hoping that he could at least sense how much I loved him. He died the next day.

When I returned home that night and curled up in my dad’s much-loved recliner, I recalled the words of Paul Gallico, the author of “The Snow Goose,” one of my favorite books as a child: “When two people loved each other, they worked together always, two against the world, a little company. Joy was shared, trouble split. You had an ally, somewhere, who was helping.”

This was my relationship with my dad. Gallico’s words spoke to me, not only of what is ours when we are loved, when there is someone in our life who gives us the sacred gift of attention but what we don’t have when that someone is gone, no matter what the reason. It is the aloneness of grief, the dark night of loss, the realization that you are now a company of one.

A year later, I lost my mom.

When we suffer losses such as these, we often look for reasons why. But, in all honesty, no reason could console us or take away the terrible hurt and emptiness we feel. We may cling to our faith in these inconsolable times, but even faith doesn’t erase the pain.

I have found that the only way through it all is to consider grief a season of life, a season of loss that ebbs and flows and forever changes who we are. We never learn about it in school, but life will teach us and Scripture can guide us:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance. …”

The writer of Ecclesiastes understood there is divine wisdom in all of God’s creation, and that we must embrace that wisdom in our own lives as well. The garden in winter is not dead, just dormant, having prepared for this season during the autumn. When the time and conditions are right, new life will spring forth from roots and seeds hidden from our sight.

— Mary Morrell
–This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.