Looking back at where we started and where we are. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. And Winston.
Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.
A year ago we plated four deer-proof, beautiful perennials: pulmonary, dianthus, columbine and yarrow. Here’s a quick update on how they are doing:
Pulmonaria – “Shrimp on the barbie”
Ah! How I love to hear Mon Cœur look at this plant and say, “Oh mom, the Shrimp on the Barbie is beautiful!”
I am loving the blooms this year. Of the three pulmonaria, the one that receives the most shade has grown and bloomed the most. We continue to pinch all spent blooms and it has been a consistent bloomer since the beginning of April.
Dianthus – “Romance”
These were a great bloomer last year and were blooming at Mother’s Day. It bloomed a little later this year, and in abundance!
Columbine – “Winky Double Red/White”
This was not the first casualty in our garden, and it certainly won’t be the last. The columbine did not last through the summer despite constant watering and care. I had it in a full sun spot, and believe that is why it didn’t do so well.
In its place, I have planted American Boneset, a native which I found through Good Seeds RVA. It is a sun loving, clay tolerant, deer resistant, perennial that will spread over time. I am looking forward to seeing it grow.
Yarrow – Milly Rock™ Rose
I have spied the Yarrow sprouted throughout the garden, in various places volunteer, although it is a native from our road. Unfortunately this has not come back as vigorously as it was when I planted it last year…
I had originally planned to dig up the canna bulbs for winter, and then life happened…So I was really quite surprised and thrilled to see little sprouts of canna leaves beginning to emerge in mid-April. These babies have really multiplied since the picture above.
We have been memorializing Millie through the garden, although I have found in the time that has followed our loss, my real priority and purpose is to take care of Mon Cœur, and now Mon Amour.
Ashlee’s most recent podcast featuring Michele Benyo, founder of Good Grief Parenting, was very timely.
“Childhood is the best time to learn about grief.”
Michele explains that childhood is the best time to learn about grief. Teachable moments include learning about life and death with flowers, pets, and people. Understanding and facing these losses helps build the coping framework.
Mon Cœur has built a strong framework for coping, and at four and a half shares candidly her curiosity about death and loved ones we’ve lost. She says things that sometimes even catch me off guard.
This morning she asked to light a candle for Millie.
“Can I sing her happy birthday?”
“It’s not her birthday, baby.”
“Ugh – I thought it was her birthday. I want to sing it.”
“Okay, you can still sing her happy birthday.”
She sang loudly, so Millie could hear her.
“Can Millie sing, too?”
“I bet she can. We just can’t hear her.”
“How old is she? Does she get bigger?”
“Golly, you have some good questions. I am not sure how that works. I don’t know if people get older in Heaven or if they stay the same age.”
“I think they get older. Like old people get older.” Pause. “I want to … be with Millie. I miss her.”
Pause. Deep breath. Exhale. “Come sit on my lap.” Another deep breath. “You miss her, huh? I do, too. The problem is, if you go to Heaven to be with her, you will leave Daddy, and Mon Amour, and me, and Mooma, and Sissy and all of our family and friends. And then you’d miss us right? It doesn’t matter where we are, we will always be missing someone who isn’t with us. You have important work to do here on Earth before you go to Heaven to be with Millie.”
These conversations sometimes knock the wind right out of me. How do I validate her loss and grief? What’s the right answer to her questions? Am I saying the right thing? Am I talking too much?
“They are grieving whether you see it or not.“
Michele mentions kids process through play. Give them opportunities to talk about it. Kids need opportunities to talk, and even if they don’t have anything to say at the moment, knowing that it is okay to talk about death, feelings of grief, and remembering loved ones out loud, then it will lay the groundwork for them to speak up when they are ready.
We talk all the time about Millie. We still pray for her every night during prayers.
We were just looking at MC’s baptism pictures, and I was naming everyone in the picture and I pointed to my belly and told them, “And that’s your sister, Millie.”
This afternoon MC asked about her eye color. “You have blue eyes like your Daddy.”
“What color were Millie’s eyes?”
“That’s a really good question- one I often wonder about too. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” (Complete with incredulous tone of a four and a half year old)
“No I don’t. Millie’s eyes never opened.”
Time has allowed me to accept what is. These questions, while they will always be difficult, are easier now for me to confront.
This may sound crazy, I feel blessed to be living in a time when it is acceptable to share our feelings around such traumas. The resources that have been available for me as we navigate our grief- and its ebbs and flows as we grow as a family- has been so valuable.
Ashlee’s podcast episode spoke to me, validated how I am navigating communicating with MC, and gave me some points to ponder.
One point that really gave me pause to consider is: the parent grieves her loss and is also walking this path and grieving through her living child’s feelings of loss.
In this moment, MC is feeling a true curiosity and grief in missing her younger sister. And I walk alongside her doing my best to validate her curiosity and grief and answer her questions as best I can.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Even as we approach a milestone birthday for Mon Amour, I am pausing to remember sweet Millie, and all mommas for whom this day is a day of remembrance for their little angels.
It has been a struggle for us- we all miss Millie and we all wish she were here with us.
We talk about events and date them in the context of Millie. “Oh, that wedding, it was after Millie.” “Oh, MC’s baptism? That was while I was pregnant with Millie.”
It is hard to believe that this coming May, she would be three. We have sat with this grief for almost two and a half years now, and in some ways it has become easier and in other ways it’s still difficult to navigate.
We continue to grieve differently. I find ways to try to celebrate and remember her every day. I am planning fall additions to and maintenance in her garden.
MC talks a lot about her and envisions heaven as a place where we can fly in a plane to visit her and Poopa. It breaks my heart to explain to her every time that heaven is a place not to visit, but to go and reunite with loved ones when it’s one’s time.
If you are remembering a little angel today, you are in my thoughts and heart.
While the original idea for our butterfly garden came from a great personal loss and tragedy for us, we have celebrated our lives and Millie just by being in the space, working, playing, eating, and meeting there.
It is so hard to believe that Millie would have been two this year. As I was looking back at pictures, I was amazed to see the changes we have made in the garden in less than two years.
I will be sharing these “before and afters” in a new series titled (ah-ha!) “Before | After”, although it’s not a before and after. Millie’s garden is a work in progress. There is definitely a before, although the after will always change. So I decided it would be best to label the pictures by the year they were taken.
Millie’s Garden has been a multitude of spaces – a place to find peace. A place to meander, listen to chimes, and be close to nature. A laboratory – experimenting with plantings, cuttings, and seedlings. Outdoor physical therapy – a place to dig, plant, water, and weed. An entertainment spot – a place for picnics, tea parties, and hide and seek games. A place to think, to laugh, to cry, to be.
I’m not sure when the hide and seek started, but as every great toddler “hider” does, MC found one spot. And she kept hiding there. So we started calling it her peek a boo rock. It has also served as a bank and a restaurant, where I would “order” and pay at the “counter.”
Fall of 2019 was the great granite set up. We were moving earth and stone to create the general landscape of Millie’s garden. Sometime shortly thereafter, MC claimed this as her rock, her peek a boo, hide out.
We planted daffodils, the petit kind (tête à tête) which bloomed early spring of 2020…We also planted a mum in the fall of 2019. Friends gave us a pretty purple petit butterfly bush on Millie’s first anniversary, which we added in Spring of 2020, and in Spring of 2021, when we split our rudbeckia, we added one next to the mum.
In Spring of 2021, we bedded in the rudbeckia, mums, daffodils, and butterfly bush around the rock, and we planted a spring blooming camellia “Professor Sargent” behind the rock.
As much as we want to keep adding, our current to-do for the garden is creating a new garden map, and evaluating each area for height and season needs. After re-evaluating the garden, we can revisit and edit our wishlist for the garden.