One of the things I am most grateful for is to live in an area with great neighbors. I don’t think it really matters the size of a home, its age, or its acreage. The real property value lies in the ability to live in a place where you can visit with your neighbors, pass on culinary treats from your kitchen and where you can rely on one another in times of need.
One of these special neighbors used to live next door. Her name was Brenda. We shared a love of nature and we would call one another if a special wildlife visitor came to our yards. We were so in tuned to nature that if either of us spotted a fawn in the woods behind our back fences, we would inevitably spot one another as we quietly snuck through our respective backyards to get a closer look. Smiling silently to each other as we ever so slowly padded our way to the woods using the trees to hide us on our way.
Once there, we would stand in peaceful observation as the fawns would peak over at us. We would try our hardest not to move since mom was close by and totally on to us. It was a stand off as she was ready at any moment to alert her young and bound off together among the under story.
Brenda made a habit of visiting me in the garden. We would meet for tea and conversation. We would sit together and she would tell me about her work, her life and her grandchildren which were her pride and joy. We would chat while watching the song birds and hummingbirds travel from her feeders to ours and back again. We would tell each other about the nesting creatures we had observed in our yards; robins in her front bushes, catbirds in the forsythia, wrens in her hanging baskets and in our nesting boxes and nuthatches & squirrels nesting in the hollows of our numerous trees.
Brenda was the kind of person that was always helping others. She did so in a way that was almost imperceptible unless you were really paying attention; in such a way that provided much-needed support while preserving that person’s dignity. It was her unique gift.
Brenda was diagnosed with Leukemia in the fall of 2011. We continued our tea-in-the-garden visits over the next year in between hospital stays and treatments. Our visits were special. I knew that when we sat together in the garden, in nature, we were bonding in a special way. We didn’t always have to talk, yet there were no awkward silences. We could commune with one another and with our surroundings on a spiritual level. It was from that place of mutual respect and understanding that I knew she came into the garden to be recharged, to find peace, to connect with the source of life at a time when her body and soul needed it most.
As the months went by, I watched my friend through different stages of decline. Her body became increasingly weak and physically smaller, but her wonderful personality remained unchanged; positive and expansive. Our tea time conversations became moments of true honesty; the real heart of any relationship. She knew the path ahead of her and she quietly worked to assure that everything was wrapped up; that those she loved knew it and that her friends felt cherished.
The last time she came to tea, it was just like any other. We met on my back patio. I served her favorite tea though it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to enjoy. Our conversation began its usual course, all the wonderful updates on her grandchildren, etc. It was a beautiful day. The sun shone brightly on her thin pale skin. The warm breeze gently reminded us to stay in that exact moment in time and visit with one another. We sat near the water garden. She loved the sound of the falling water. She gazed inside to see the fish and the frogs swimming happily. The birds were singing to us and often came to the water for a cool splash. The hummingbirds were particularly active that late August day and we would freeze when one would hover near the waterfall for a quick drink.
Once we covered the usual territory, she went on to explain that she was preparing for the end of her life. You know the practical stuff; hospice, funeral arrangements, etc. She had planned it all. Then she asked “Can we just sit here a while?” I happily obliged. Where else could I be at that moment that was more important? And there we sat, side by side, watching the birds listening to the water, feeling the warm breeze and enjoying the smells of the late summer garden as we silently enjoyed our last cup of tea.
“Here’s to you my friend”