MEMOIR: ‘The Garden and the Grief’ by Connie Kinsey


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By CONNIE KINSEY | Reprinted from W.Va. Fur and Root | aug2.2021

Grief stole the garden that grief and anger built.  

I want it back.

As Doug was dying, he sat in the daybed by the bay window and watched me build the garden. He was so sick, and I had taken off work to be his caretaker. Sick though he was, I had many hours left to myself.  

I sat in my family room and looked at my bare backyard. I had always planned a grand garden back there. Over the years I had made periodic attempts at it, but my midlife career as a full-time employee and full-time college student didn’t let much happen.  

Now, I had time. And, miraculously, I had money.

I began the garden. I built a circular retaining wall to house daffodils, peonies, vinca and ivy. I bought a water fountain — a very modern design — so unusual for me. I planted dozens and dozens of white petunias and white double impatiens — I wanted the garden to glow in the moonlight.  I tended to the wisteria and brought it back from the brink.  

The white roses were pruned and fed. The furniture painted. New cushions procured.


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As Doug lay dying, I poured my grief and anger into building the garden.

It was nearly complete, as complete as gardens get, when he was hospitalized for that last time. Three weeks or so at the hospital. The grass and weeds grew. 

The night after he died, his daughter and I sat in the overgrown garden drinking wine and telling stories about him. Tears flowed freely.  

The fireflies darted about the weeds and brush. Music played softly. The windchimes provided needed baritone to the cascading of the fountain.

It was such a lovely evening for such a cruel event.

As I took care of Doug’s estate and caught up with work, the garden was abandoned. So much to do — the garden didn’t seem like a necessity.

Soon it was an overgrown mess. I couldn’t catch my breath. Couldn’t summon the energy to reclaim a garden on the edge of a forest from going wild. 

I vowed to tend it as I realized what a necessity it was.

My dad died suddenly. The day of his funeral, I cleared an area near the fountain and planted 13 Madonna lilies — a flower of significance to him.  

As I actively grieved him, I reclaimed the garden. Dozens of petunias, impatiens and a white Mandevilla. The Japanese climbing hydrangea bloomed for the first time.  I found solace in the garden.


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And then my best friend died.  

And along with her, the garden.  

I lost my will to bring life out of death.

It is still neglected, though it provides the sudden bloom now and again — mock orange, Peruvian daffodils, lily of the valley.

During the pandemic, I vowed to reclaim it.  But then I broke my foot. And then I contracted COVID.

Oh, how I long to get back to the garden. I dedicate it now to me. I need its lifeforce to revive mine. It is now a necessity again.


Follow Connie Kinsey at her blog at WV Fur and Root

AUGUST 2021 ISSUE of WestVirginiaVille.com
1) EDITORS/NOTE: Hellzones & Heroes, Painters & Clouds, Gardens & Grief
2) HERO OF THE OPEN HEART: The Long, Strange Trip of Dave Evans’ Notable Life
3) BACK/THEN: On the Bad Streets of Ann Magnuson’s Charleston Upbringing
4) MEMOIR: ‘The Garden and the Grief’ by Connie Kinsey
5) ART/WORK: Sharon Lynn and the Paths Taken
6) PHOTOSHOW: A high-up visit to Robert Singleton’s WV studio
7) VIDEOS: The Pillars of the WV Climate Alliance
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