“It looks so prehistoric…like elephant grass, or something. Why are you taking it out?”, my neighbor was admiring the tall ornamental grass I was furiously trying to dig out. I mumbled something about how this grass was actually a bully…squeezing out other plants and grasses with its “survival of the fittest” attitude and roots.
My husband had planted this grass; he loved ornamental grasses. And it was beautiful. It was at least 7 feet tall, and looked so elegant blowing in the wind. But it also seemed to triple in width every summer, was messy, crowding out the other plants, and almost impossible to cut down in the fall because the stalks were so thick. Last year my arms ended up full of jabs and scratches from its bamboo-like stalks and razor-sharp blades. Truthfully, this grass was just a pain in the ass, and I decided it had to go.
That’s right. I MADE the DECISION that it had to go.*
*See, they tell you that when you are grieving, making decisions can be very hard. And they are right. I blame this on 1) my mind being totally messed up from trauma, and 2) another pesky emotion called “REGRET”. Indecision and regret just seem to follow each other around like a set of conjoined twins. When someone close to you dies, you can’t help but have regrets. Regrets about the last words you shared, regrets about disagreements or unfinished business, regrets that maybe you didn’t actually treasure-every-single-second-they-were-alive. And the specter of this regret ekes its way into every next move or decision that you have to make. Here’s how it goes: What if I sell his truck, and then regret that it’s gone? What if I throw out his socks and then regret that they are gone? What if dig out his beloved ornamental grass, then regret that it’s gone? Why all the regret? Because suddenly every little thing that reminds you of your loved one is precious. It’s a piece of them, a reminder of who they were. So as you move forward, you fear that getting rid of their things will erase your memory of them, will erase their footprint in your life…on this planet…
So this weekend, I was tackling the grass, one decision that, thankfully, came easily. Digging the “prehistoric beast ” out, however, was anything but. It took several sessions over the weekend, wrestling the blades and roots with the sharpest shovel and shears I had. It involved yanking, stabbing, cutting, stomping, cursing…every time I’d dig down and hit a core root, it would feel like I was striking rock. That’s how strong these rhizome shoots were. They were like tree roots. My husband would have loved this type of aggressive project, and probably would have had it done in an hour. But for me, it was a lot of work. These roots were incredibly tough and entrenched. And I couldn’t help admire how they grew…segment by segment, each shoot lead by a delicate narrow tip. Stealthily working their way into other plants’ root systems, even pushing through cracks in the cement, the shoots really did look kind of “prehistoric”. I wanted to crack one in half to understand more of its “anatomy”, but couldn’t break it with my hands. Wow, this stuff is stronger than bone!
“Stronger than bone” – I stopped in my tracks. My mind went back to the emergency room. The night that my husband looked me in the eyes, and said, “I’m so sorry, I have a brain tumor”. The sentence that led us down into the dark caverns of hospital hallways, tests and procedures, stabbing and jabbing, and learning more about the “anatomy” of the cancer that had been spreading throughout his body. Sneakily, unbeknownst to us, growing, crowding, and cramping important organs, including his brain. Pushing its way into, and destroying skull and bone. BONE. How can that be? Bone is so strong! It made me feel sick all over again just thinking about it. Fucking cancer.
My digging was over for that day. I was tired, and emotionally bent out of shape. My mind was a jumble, thinking about metaphors, nature, my husband, cancer. Just the other day I saw a post on FB about how cancer is so limited, “It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith,” etc. etc. And I get it. People live with, and survive cancer, and they need all the positive support they can get. But, come on! Death kind of cancels all that other positive shit out, doesn’t it? Because cancer CAN kill. Cancer DOES kill. And cancer DID kill: my husband. I hate cancer. And I’m pissed that it possesses similar qualities to things that I admire in nature, that it too can grow strong and thrive. Growth and survival can be such beautiful things, but apparently also ugly and deadly.
Ok, calm down, stay positive – think back to those things that cancer can’t do. Don’t let it ruin the metaphor of this story! There is still a beautiful metaphor to be had here, one that can live beyond the confines of a body. Because as I was digging and yanking out that strong grass, it also reminded me of my husband. He was so strong and stubborn, sharp-witted and smart. He was also sweet, gentle, and beautiful. He nestled his way into my heart, into my memories, his funny sayings, and bulldog determination. And like that “prehistoric grass”, his presence had been growing within my being – perhaps longer than I even knew – establishing its place, his roots growing intertwined with mine, as part of my nature.
And that too, is stronger than bone. Damn it.