When my good friend passed away, I found solace and healing in the unlikeliest of places.
The Christmas before my friend and soul sister Laura Schmidt died, she gave me back my plant. Actually, she gave me back some shoots from my original plant, which had evolved from another shoot off its parent plant circa 1978. The office assistant at my first job gave it to me when I admired it. The plant had lived through a lot in its various incarnations, including the breadth and depth of Laura and I being friends.
It was a hearty plant, flourishing through my early single dating days and my first years of marriage. Then, a sudden overseas move found me searching for a new home for it. Of course, Laura became its new nurturer. Nowhere did it thrive with more abundance than under her green thumb. That’s what Laura did best—nurture.
This made it all the more sadly ironic when she was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. We, whom she nurtured, would have given anything if a little nurturing could have saved her. But of course, it couldn’t.
She brought the repotted plant over with an angel statuette, symbolizing happiness and a cloisonné heart ornament—her last Christmas gifts to me. She was still trying to take care of everybody else.
“Take good care of it,” she told me. Then, stated what she really was thinking: “It’ll die anyway.” I dismissed that thought, cancelled it for both of us—then and there. It wasn’t that I didn’t think she wouldn’t die; it was that I knew she would. Tomorrow, 10 years later, 20, 30—we’d all go, including the plant. I just didn’t want her to go yet.
Fast forward to Christmas 5 years after Laura’s passing. I found myself in a plant shop begging the owner to save this plant. An exotic variety of prayer plant, it not only linked me to memory, it linked me to Laura’s nurturing abundant soul, which I can still feel around me from time to time. I’d show Laura I could keep something alive. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let it die. Not yet. Not now.
The shop owner was shaking her head and telling me it wasn’t worth saving. She urged me to buy a new one. But, she stopped short when I told her with tears in my eyes that it was a very sentimental plant. She repotted it and gave it lots of water and some food, and told me that was all she could do. We’d have to see if it responded.
The plant did respond … somewhat. The spring and summer brought up new shoots. Some just as quickly withered; others stayed the course, enough that I thought it was going to survive the odds. A month ago, it began to waver again. It looked so forlorn I thought about letting it go. What to do with a plant that has been with you your entire adult life? A burial? A funeral?
I watered it. I fed it. I repotted it again. I put it in the shower, as Laura had always done. Yet the next month, I had to let it go. Just as I did her. It completed the job it came to do for so many years. I admired that plant so many seasons ago, not knowing that decades later it would get me through a season of profound grief and loss. A grief that I have now bridged.
Fast forward again to this Christmas season, 10 years later. My children are now teens, and my son is 9 hours away in college taking exams. Another prayer plant sits in a vase in the foyer. I pass it and soak up its energy. Vibrant, young and soaking up the sun, it feeds my soul.
It’s gotten so healthy that it needs to be repotted. I know it’s there to help me through the next cycle of empty nester, or whatever life may bring. My tears of sadness have transformed to tears of joy that I had Laura in my life, that I had prayer plants in my life. To let me know when it was time to love, time to nurture, and eventually, time to let go.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all who have lost a loved one this year. May their memories bring you peace and may your shared love bring you a joy that surpasses this earthly separation.