Tag Archives: garden

An empty house

My friend Helene has been in the hospital for a week now… she is about to move to a rehab clinic so I haven’t gotten to talk to her for a couple of days. She has lived across the street from me for the last 28 years.

When I moved to this house in 1981, it was Spring…. just like now. Rhododendrons blazing and camellias almost spent from the rains… everything very green. Helene had just lost her husband to ALS. I never got to meet Bill but he was everything to her and she talked about him often. In the later years she complained about the amazing leaf fall from the maple he planted for her… it is now the most handsome tree on the street. She dutifully raked that yard for two months straight every year and sometimes threatened to have the tree taken down but she didn’t mean it. It was good exercise and she knew it.

We have been through a few things together over the years… she was the one person I worried about the most when I divorced my husband of 22 years. I knew she liked him… Glenn was a good man in a lot of ways and, in the neighborhood, he was always a willing hand. I was afraid she might think I had been the bad guy in that transition but she took my hand during my late telling and said she thought he had left me on my own too much. You know, his lack of participation the last 7 or 8 years of our marriage was exactly the reason I ended it. I guess she could see that from across the street. When he moved on, I was the one she called to help change out the light bulbs or hang a plant. We have buried a beloved dog and we have shared tomato crops for several summers.

She is 91 now and her body is wispy and frail. I think she is having trouble eating though the doctors haven’t found anything to point a finger at…. I think her brain is just messing with her. Her long term memory is fine but she is having trouble with the yesterday stuff. You need to know that this is a fiercely independent woman… her mind is completely set on living in her home until it’s done. Right now, that road is barred and I know she is chafing at the barriers in front of her. I don’t think she will get to come home. I am afraid she will spend the rest of her days in someone else’s space and I can’t help her.

Two weeks ago, I went over to her house to reseat her new tomato plant… we had to do a little soil amendment so that it would thrive. When we were done, we stood at her garden gate to chat for minute… the light was very soft in the early evening and I noticed her smile and the pink sweater against the rose bush and lilies on her south wall. I made a concerted effort to take the picture in my mind. I could have gone to get my camera but I knew she hadn’t made it to her salon that week and I also knew that the camera would change the whole thing so it will always be in my head… that last real glimpse before the fear and the confusion. I hope she goes easy.

This is a photograph of Helene taken by her friend Mary T. in the Spring of 2007….helene_by_mary