I love plants.  I’m sure this comes as no surprise for those of you who know me.  I have many houseplants, too many gardens, and dreams of more even though I struggle to maintain what I already have.  I love them not only for their beauty and life, but for their metaphor.  Plants offer a vocabulary for what many struggle to express with words.  They speak in simple terms about nature and nurture, about rest and struggle, about quiet and solitude, and about life and death.

I was watering one particular plant today when it occurred to me that this peace lily needed a prune.  The tall, gangly stalks had grown bedraggled and torn, and quietly underneath them whispered abundant fresh, baby green growth.  Now this plant does not actually belong to me; it was a gift for my dear friend after the death of her mother almost two years ago. After being neglected during a holiday break, my friend and I had returned to school to find the plant struggling, barely alive.  I nursed it back to health with a lot of water and some serious pruning.  As it needed more attention, I took it home to repot it and provide more attention than would be available at school.  The plant has experienced a difficult year.  There were times after I repotted it that I was certain I had killed it.  There were times after I pruned it that I was certain I had killed it.  There were times after I moved it to sunnier or shadier places that I was certain I had killed it.  And yet it lived to finally (insert deep, relieved breath here) produce healthy new starts.


My heart ached for my friend as I realized that this has been her story also.  Thankfully, I do not know what it’s like to lose a parent, but with my own experience of loss I can certainly relate to death’s impact, the grieving process, and the ways we emerge from those experiences.  Like the lily, my friend experienced trauma:  confusion, grief, anger, wilting…She had no choice but to move on from that loss, but how does one do that exactly?  There’s no manual, no Idiot’s-Guide-to. So we stumble forward – a little too much water here, a little too much neglect there.  Maybe we try a new pot – new rituals, new definitions of a life we thought we had figured out.  Sometimes it’s too sunny so we readjust.  Sometimes it’s too shady and we yearn for the sun we once knew.


We wish desperately for time to move faster to release us from this torrent of unchosen new.  And it is time that helps to heal, every day, while we do the work of breathing and slowly unfurling; learning new rituals, new patterns, new norms. Yet even when time has blessed us and we have slowly learned the new dance rhythms, there is at times a pruning that must still occur.  For the dance has two steps forward, but one step back.  And when we step back, we do the hard work of re-membering, re-grieving, re-living, and honoring what once was, before it’s time to yet again move forward.  


We have to decide what to hold on to as those steps backward become less painful yet more crucial.  How do we honor the time we had with those we loved?  Sometimes the memories we cling to become too burdensome and only hide the new growth yearning to thrive underneath.  Do we hold tightly to the ways they failed us?  To the ways we failed them?  Does this keep us from moving forward?  If we let it go, what peace may await?  What sacred new growth emerges as we prune?

new growth


Pruning is hard work.  It takes time, self-awareness, vulnerability, and courage, but it produces a more fertile place within us from which we are able to love better, and reflect our loved one’s vibrant beauty to all those around us.  We offer our new growth, our vitality to our loved ones and our communities.  And we are not alone when we do the hard work.  There are many who are ready to walk alongside us as we grieve, breathe, and learn our new dance.

One Response to “Vitality”

  1. MSW says on :

    Beautifully written, per usual, Becky… I love your perspective.. Such food for thought… The best thing, I’ve found, about gardening, is the hope for the future…always something to look forward to, season to season, year to year….

    Keep writing, girl!

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