Caring for a parent, Death & Dying


In memory of Carolyn Gayheart, with love.

Lent is over, we are in the season of Easter. The air is warming. The rhubarb and the peas are up; and carrots, spinach, chard, and lettuce are planted. This weekend the beets and broccoli go in. And then the wait for May when flowers, squash, and beans can go in the ground. New life is happening in the vegetable garden.

New Life

I’m planting my garden according to the moon cycle this year. Plants that produce above ground are planted during the waxing moon; underground during the waning moon. I may have to reconsider the beet planting. Some now, some in a couple of weeks, perhaps, to test the theory.

The hosta shoots have poked through the ground, the bleeding heart is in its fullness. The ferns are gradually loosening their coiled fronds and the coral bells have new leaves. Rebirth is happening in the perennial garden.


A baby is coming in early May, or whenever it wants to—babies are like that. Babies grow above ground, right? The new moon is May 6, just two days past the due date. (There are no May birthdays in my family; we’re excited about that. Really happy it’s not threatening to come in crowded June.) Birth!

There was a death in the family this week. And that’s a kind of resurrection: the release of a soul from a broken body and from the bonds of this imperfect life, when it moves on to the garden of the holy.


I like the whole release, rebirth, renewal thing of springtime—of Easter—but I never really understood the resurrection, in the way I don’t buy into a literal virgin birth story (and don’t believe we are meant to). But the minister at the church I didn’t go to on Easter Sunday (because it’s 80 miles from home) wrote this, and it makes all kind of sense to me.

“Resurrection is not resuscitation. It’s not bringing something back to life. It’s not going back to a time before there was brokenness or to a place we imagine that was safe and comfortable and familiar. It’s not trying to recapture that Hallelujah Chorus of our childhood. Resurrection is what happens when we stand together in our brokenness and imagine a new life and a new world.” (Pastor Tim Phillips, Seattle First Baptist Church)

Resurrection is happening at home, as I stand beside my mother in our imperfection. Sometimes I wish for the Hallelujah Chorus, but as I accept that I can’t go back to a time before I knew that life and human love are not perfect, as I release the longing for a relationship that isn’t going to happen, and as I leave the door open for what can be, my eyes open to the beauty that is. Promise!

Promise (of applesauce)

Two hundred invitations have gone out for my mother’s 100th birthday party. Family, friends from a time before I knew her and from my childhood, my father’s co-workers, “children” from her Girl Scout troops and Sunday school classes, neighbors, organizations to which she has given of her time and energy, business owners and service providers from town, people who have cared for her and her home in the two decades since my father left. There are already 80 acceptances from the Evite; mailed invitations go out today. My mother is known and loved as a generous and beautiful being. She has planted well, in all the cycles of the moon, nurturing friendship.


Death is close at hand, in the cycle of her life. Meanwhile, there is much to do to prepare for a reunion of both birth and chosen family to celebrate what still is. And there will be a new baby in attendance, who will be a century younger than his or her great-grandmother! In the spare moments, and when I am in need of renewal, release, resurrection—and a healthy dose of promise— I’ll be in the garden.

“The chores, the household tasks, do provide a kind of frame, but I get more and more impatient with bothering about things…. Gardening is altogether different. There the door is always open into the ‘holy’—growth, birth, death. Every flower holds the whole mystery in its short cycle, and in the garden we are never far away from death, the fertilizing, good, creative death.” May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude




6 thoughts on “Resurrection”

  1. There is so much here that moves me, Gretchen. Thank you. Leaving the door open for what can be . . . I needed that.


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