And this too shall pass....
At first it was agreed among my siblings that we would take our time clearing out our parents' house, giving ourselves about a year and getting it on the market next spring. Sixty years of accumulation brought from house to house, and for the last 20 years in a very large house, is a daunting effort in and of itself, but my mom loved to shop for everything from clothes to collections and she NEVER threw anything away. On Mother's Day my brother decided that he wanted the house on the market ASAP. Huh???
His idea was to hire a company like 1-800-GOT-JUNK and pay them to empty it out and haul everything away. He didn't want anything and didn't want to put any effort into it himself. I am the complete opposite. My mom had so many nice things and they meant a lot to her, but there were things mixed in throughout that should have been thrown out years ago. I thought it would be so disrespectful to do it my brother's way and so I took it upon myself to sort through everything.
My sister Julie helped quite a bit when she could, but my other two siblings only dedicated one weekend and a few odd days to the task. I've been working anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day on it 7 days a week since that Mother's Day announcement. With the timeline pressure on, I did what I call a triage type sort. Things that couldn't possibly be sorted through quickly, like family home movies, slides, photos, and memorabilia were just loaded into my car and taken to my house. Same with jewelry, Longaberger Baskets, Boyds Bears figurines, Jim Shore figurines, and about 25 bins of her Christmas decor. Also all of my dad's office paperwork - 6 file drawers worth and numerous stacks that he hadn't filed. The rest was sorted and put into three categories - trash, donation, and for pass along to family.
It has taken more than a month of hard work, but it is about finished now. The house is completely emptied out. I've made numerous trips to disperse the content and today the hospice thrift store donation truck is coming to get what is left and has been boxed up for them. All those boxes are in the garage so it should be easy loading. It feels strange and sad to me that your worldly possessions can come down to this.
I've been under a lot of stress again with it all. I was truly looking forward to a break after so much of my life has been consumed with care giving, but it wasn't meant to be. The only good thing that I can say is that it is done and there will be no more time crunch pressures associated with it. With so many things brought to my own home, I have months ahead of me to get my house back in order. At least I can do it at my own pace. There will likely be quite a few more donations, but I will keep and incorporate her things in with my own decor as much as I can. Bittersweet.
I can't even look at my gardens without dismay. They have not been worked on at all. I haven't planted the perennials I got from the amish nursery in spring and the weeds have taken over. I actually thought that this would be the year to get on top of it. HAH. I will have time now, but the summer heat and humidity will be in full force and that will be a factor in what I can physically do anyway. Heavy sigh.
The other display gardens that I stopped at on my road trip adventure was Peony's Envy in Bernardsville, New Jersey. I have been buying peonies from this vendor for years at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Seeing their display gardens has been on my wish list and it was on a direct route home from Garden Vision Epimediums in Massachusetts.
The drive from the hotel that I stayed at on the New York/New Jersey state line to Peony's Envy was just under an hour. I arrived a little earlier than the 10:00 opening, but Kathleen was out and about and said I could go ahead in.
The timing of my visit to see the epimediums at peak bloom didn't coincide with the peak bloom of herbaceous peonies, but it did with the peak bloom of tree peonies. I have never seen tree peonies so it was a treat.
I was totally blown away by the display gardens. They were beautiful. The setting is in an old established neighborhood with homes on large acreage lots. There were many mature deciduous trees with sweeps of peony beds throughout. Nice walking paths to stroll and admire what looked to be 1000s of peonies. Stone retaining walls, split rail fencing, swaths of green grass, garden accents, and so many other factors played in to the overall design. Eye candy for sure.
After seeing the tree peonies in full bloom, I wanted to get a few for my own gardens. They were nearly sold out already, but I managed to get two. I also picked up an herbaceous peony that was new to their inventory this year. Peonies are pricey but they are very long lived - a hundred years or more!
I got back on the road around 1:30, had an easy and uneventful drive, and was back home by 5:00. A 3 1/2 hour drive can be done as a day trip, and I know that I will go back between late May to early June to see the herbaceous and intersectional peonies at peak bloom. If not this year, definitely next year.
Even after being home for several days now, I am still on cloud nine from the road trip!
I like epimediums. They aren't common in nurseries and other than a few cultivars like 'Lilafee' and 'Yubae', you have to look to mail order sources. The cream of the crop by far is Garden Vision Epimediums. The selection Karen Perkins offers is extensive. I made my first big purchase in 2015 and another a few years later. They were to become the backbone of my Epimedium Walk garden area.
I had noticed on the website that the gardens in Massachusetts are open for visitors for a few weeks in May while the epimediums are in peak bloom. Making a road trip there has been on my wish list for years. Karen is retiring. Last summer was the end of mail order business and this May marks the last of her open garden days. It was now or never. So, I made plans for the 8 hour journey and off I went.
On Tuesday I drove to about an hour south of the display gardens and stayed at a motel right off the highway just over the Connecticut/Massachusetts state line. Yesterday it was an hour drive through beautiful Massachusetts on rural roads to reach the gardens.
The gardens themselves aren't extensive, but it still took me hours to get my fill of looking at hundreds of epimediums in full bloom. I realized that my own collection is not in optimum conditions to reach the full potential of the mature specimens that I saw there. Epimediums thrive in shade, but I believe mine are in too much shade.
Epimedium Walk is a long path which starts at the driveway and then winds down through the woods to the pond. The epimediums that are planted at the beginning of the path near the driveway are doing well, but those planted further down the path are not. There is more sun where there is an opening in the tree canopy that was cleared to accommodate the driveway, and that is the condition they need. I need to rethink my garden design. Something to ponder during the drive home.
There are other mail order sources that sell epimediums, but none as extensive. I made a huge purchase knowing that it was likely the last opportunity that I had to add to my collection. I've got two flats of 2" pots of epimedium cultivars in the back of my SUV
After touring the display gardens and making my purchases, I got back on the road. I stayed in a hotel just off the highway at the New York/New Jersey state line, about a 3 1/2 hour drive. Got there about 5:30 and boy was I tired. I've got another display garden stop planned for today. More on that later!
After two full days of rain, the storm front has finally moved on. It was still cloudy and unseasonably cold though, not getting any warmer than low 50s. I wanted to get started on doing some kind of gardening and picked the Cherry Tree Nook to work on.
The Cherry Tree Nook is one of my newer garden areas, fairly large, and sparsely planted. The weeping cherry tree itself is mature - it was planted at least 20 years ago and is lovely when it blooms in early spring. In 2014 I made an elliptical garden area around the tree and planted large quantities of tulips. It was spectacular the following spring but the spring after that the tulips made a poor showing. Tulips don't perennialize well here and I learned to just treat them as annuals. In 2016 and 2017 I planted hyacinths where the tulips had been, a better choice overall for the spring extravaganza bulb design idea.
In 2018 I decided to enlarge the elliptical to a large free form area, taking it over to the wooded tree line to eliminate the patchy grass area there and also to connect it with the Lemon Garden. I made a berm on the back side along the grass of the open yard to give it a little structure and also to direct the flow of water from heavy rains to keep it from washing out the mulch. Now I am in the process of filling it with plants. So far I've added five peonies along the berm, three low evergreen sweet box and four mountain laurels along the front edge, some hellebores, some big root geraniums on the slope for erosion control, and a few other odds and ends. Even with these plants and shrubs, it is sparse. It will be fun seeing it all come together over the next few years.
I spent about 2 1/2 hours on it just to get a little momentum going. In that time I managed to rake out accumulated leaves, clip off ratty hellebores leaves, and weed about half of it. There are weeds in this garden despite the heavy layer of mulch that I put down last year, but not as weedy as my other garden areas. Weeds overwhelm most of them and I believe my gardens sport an above normal volume. Weeding will always be a part of gardening, but one of these years I would love to really curtail the excessive amounts. I've always just pulled weeds by hand, but making more use of pre-emergent herbicides and weed killer sprays should help if I can stay on top of it.
One of the things that I like about my gardens is that I have incorporated places to sit in most of the areas. In the Cherry Tree Nook I have a simple concrete bench, the kind that you see at most garden centers displayed with the statuary. I spent some time just sitting and enjoying the peace and quiet once I decided I was done with the gardening. I thought about my mom on this first Mother's Day without her. Mother's Day was always a family get together celebration for her, usually a brunch or a late lunch/early dinner. I had a good cry but then turned my thoughts to all the happy memories.
Of course with all the rain we've had, the ground was saturated and I got quite wet and dirty from sitting down to weed. I ended the day with a hot bath and getting into my clean dry pajamas then promptly fell asleep. I'm wide awake now but will get back to bed soon for the rest of the night.
I've mentioned several times about my mom and the caregiving that she has needed for years. It has been a major focus of my life since I retired in 2017. There were stretches of weeks and months when most of my time and energy was needed on a daily basis but then there would be more stable stretches when the care level could be scaled back a bit until the next health crisis arose, and it always did. The constant cycle of ups and downs was mentally draining. I am a worrier, and I carried the weight of worry for my parents' well being on my shoulders. It was not how I envisioned spending my retirement days, but I also knew that when I could start doing those things that I had envisioned for myself, it would be with the sad reality that my parents were gone.
My mom never recovered from the health crisis she suffered in September. She spent 6 weeks at a rehab facility after a hospital stay, but then she was discharged because she was not showing any improvement. The options were to transfer her to a full care nursing facility or bring her home. With covid concerns still running rampant, the local nursing homes were not accepting new patients and other facilities were about an hour away. My father was adamant about having her home anyway, although for years he had been delusional about the amount of assistance she, and also he, required. Somehow we managed, but it wasn't easy. Myself and a hired caregiver that came for a few hours each day provided the physical care. My sister Julie helped with errands, groceries, and prepared meals, as well as being the shoulder that I could always lean on for moral support.
However, after the crisis last fall we were dealing with a whole new level of care. My mom was completely bed ridden and in a mental stupor most of the time. She needed round the clock assistance. Between the personal caregiver that had been providing care in the past and an agency to fill in when she wasn't available, my mom had 10-12 hours hired coverage every day. I provided the care for the other 12-14 hours from the time a caregiver left and through the night until another caregiver came the next morning. The agency rarely provided a consistent caregiver, so it was always a revolving door of new people. I had what I called "Cheryl Days" when I could leave my mom's care reliably with Cheryl, the young woman who had been with us for years, and "Brightstar Days" when I had to orient yet another new caregiver and be close at hand throughout their shift. Close at hand wasn't an issue because I only live down the hill, but on those "Brightstar Days" I rarely was able to have any real break because I was called back up there every few hours for something or other.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas my mom came out of that mental stupor. Even though she still was only awake for very short periods of time, at least she was mentally there. I cherished those brief moments in a way that I can't even explain. One of the most depressing things that I've ever experienced was caring for her earthly body when for all intents and purposes, she was already gone. In the meantime, my dad's health and mental state were declining at a rapid and alarming rate. He went in to the hospital a few days before Christmas and passed away in early January. My sister Julie took a leave of absence from work and spent those weeks with him and the hospital logistics, and then took charge of the funeral arrangements while I remained home with my mom. I hadn't been home to sleep in my own bed for months, but at that point I moved in to my parents' house full time. Mike got covid, so I didn't even see him for weeks while he quarantined to keep any possibility of exposure away from us.
My mom had fallen back into the mental stupor and was in the final stages of kidney and liver failure by then. The hospice nurse told me that it was one of the most pain free ways for a life to end, and it was. My mom was sleeping and just didn't wake up. There was no last gasp of breath, nothing at all. She was breathing one minute and the next minute she wasn't. At first I wasn't even sure she had passed. That was in early February.
It is quite surreal that both of my parents are gone. I've been mentally prepared for a long time for my mom with all of her long standing health issues, but definitely not mentally prepared at all for my dad. I'm relieved that the worry about their well being is over, and I'm relieved that the physical demands of caregiving are done, but I have been depressed. Can't seem to motivate to do any of the things that seemed so important to me before. I have days when the normalcy of every day living doesn't seem so trivial and I feel optimistic about the next stage of my own life. Then there are days when I over philosophize about it all and can't seem to get going on anything. I miss them both more than I ever believed possible. I miss who they were before age and infirmity greatly curtailed their quality of life. I miss who we were as a family before my brother and sisters and I all grew up. I even miss when they both exasperated me with reckless and stubborn behavior that always resulted in more worry and caregiving needs.
The circle of life is inevitable. I know that. Gardeners more than anybody know that. Spring is here. What could be more joyous than the circle of life beginning anew. The next phase of my life as a 60 year old orphan is here. I'll adjust in time. Gardening has and always will be what grounds me. Time to get back to it.