My mother’s love of gardening passed on to her children, including me. In my mind’s eye, I could see the trash heap at the back door of our new home transformed into an herb garden. To be fair, the rock that stuck up at the back door might lead many to think it was unusable. The former owner had spent years of throwing things in it and then covering the mess with mulch. Trash to them was a nice bed for a garden for me. It wasn’t the first thing I attacked when we both the house, the front needed move love, but it was on my list.
The spring I planned to attack the herb garden in earnest was the spring we learned the nursing home would be my mother’s last home. My garden plans would be delayed, I thought this as I ran by the dirt pile, jumped in the car and headed off to visit Mom, but I would find a way to make the herb garden happen. I threw in a packet of oregano seeds I had on hand and thought I would figure the rest out later.
At the nursing home Mom’s memory was fading as the vascular dementia took over. I wanted to show her pictures of my garden but first I had to introduce myself so she had some sense of where I fell in the hierarchy of those coming in and out of her room. And she wouldn’t have to try to figure out if I were a nurse, a doctor. She would have a sense, for however long she remembered. The day Mom was excited that Einstein, my sister’s beagle, had come to visit but didn’t know my sister was a devastating one. We still talk about the time she didn’t recognize her son or the two granddaughter’s in front of her but recognized the voice of another granddaughter on the phone. Dementia does strange things. No matter what happened, or how bad things got, she always recognized Dad. Her face would light up when he walked in the room and no one else mattered. We would leave the two of them alone until Dad couldn’t handle the changes in the woman he had known for more than 50 years.
The oregano thrived, unattended, and filled the garden. When I showed her pictures she asked me what that was. She was the one who taught me to recognize different herbs.
Mom was in the wing of a nursing home that held those who, no matter their age, were there until the end. All or most had something going on with their brain. Weekly meetings about her status were never positive but they were kind with information from folks trained to provide facts and comfort but not hope. Most days at the nursing home, once introductions out of the way, I would prattle on about one thing or another to fill the silence and to see if anything I said triggered her memory. Usually she fell asleep and I would knit to keep my hands busy while my mind ran wild with all the things that needed to be done for the garden, for work, for whatever would happen next. As the time for starting from seeds passed, I planned to get some seedlings.
Oregano signifies joy and happiness and it was good to see something thrive. Mom would have appreciated a rogue herb. I struggled to see the woman sitting on the bed as the same one who had taught about soil, weeding, and identifying plants and herbs.
My husband and I spent what turned out to be Mom’s last day with her. Her memory had returned. She told us she was watching a movie of her life on the wall and she wanted to play gin rummy. Unable to stay awake long enough to complete a hand, she knew when we tried to skip her play. At 4am the next morning she quietly stopped breathing.
By this time the oregano was blooming. It filled the herb garden, waving in the wind and attracting bees. I let it be, there were other things that needed more attention.
A friend gave me a rose bush in remembrance of my mother. It came with no tags but the next summer it bloomed white with a blush pink center. It’s beautiful. It’s been 13 years and that oregano is still a part of my herb garden and the rose bush has a prominent spot in the front yard.
Each year I cut the oregano to allow other herbs and flowers to grow, but I’ll never get rid of it altogether. And I talk to the rose bush each summer when it blooms. It took a few years for me to replace the memories of my mother’s last months with memories of her before she became ill. When we sell this house, these are the two plants I’ll need to have with me.