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Love and Daffodils Forever

They had just celebrated their 39th anniversary in April when Bill went for his annual checkup. Always in perfect health, he was unprepared for what the doctor found. Symptoms Bill had ignored as "old age" led to questions, palpations, more questions, and finally instructions for a battery of tests.

"Just to be on the safe side," the doctor said. When Bill took the news home to Constance, she refused to consider that it could be something serious.

Fortunately, it was April and the gardens beckoned. There was more than enough work needed to prepare the beds for the coming season, and they threw themselves into the now-familiar yearly routine. They spent their days, as always, surrounded by trays of flowers and bags of mulch, wielding their favorite trowels.

As the summer progressed, 30 years of gardening rewarded them with a showplace of color. Benches and swings were placed amid the bounty of flowers, and they spent nearly every evening during the summer relaxing and basking in the beauty.

As they worked, Constance began to notice a subtle change in Bill. He seemed to tire more easily, had difficulty rising from his knees, and had little appetite. By the time the test results were in, she was no longer so sure of a good prognosis.

When the doctor ushered them into his office, she knew. His demeanor was too professional, too unlike the friend they had known and trusted for so many years. There was no easy way to say it. Bill was dying, with so little hope of curing his illness that it would be kinder to not even try. He had perhaps six months left, time enough to put his house in order, but little time for anything else.

They decided he would stay at home, with help from visiting nurses and hospice when the time came. Their children were both far away, one in Oregon and the other in Chicago. They came for extended visits, but with jobs and children, neither could come permanently. So Bill and Constance spent the ending time as they had spent the beginning time, alone together. Only now they had their beloved gardens, a great comfort to them both for that entire summer.

By September, Bill was fading fast and they both knew the end was near. For some reason Constance couldn't understand, he seemed to be pushing her to get out more. He urged her to call old friends and have lunch, go shopping, see a movie. She resisted until he became so agitated that she conceded and began making her calls. Everyone was more than willing to accompany her, and she found she did take some comfort in talking over lunch or during the long ride to the mall.

Bill passed away peacefully in October, surrounded by his family. Constance was inconsolable. No amount of knowing could have prepared her for the emptiness she felt. Winter descended upon her with a vengeance. Suddenly it seemed dark all the time.

Then the holidays came, and she went to Oregon for Thanksgiving and to Chicago for Christmas. The house was cold and empty when she returned. She wasn't quite sure how she could go on, but somehow she did.

At long last, it was April again, and with April came the return to longer and warmer days. She would go from window to window looking out at the yard, knowing what needed to be done, but not really caring if she did it or not.

Then, one day, she noticed something different about the gardens. They were coming to life sooner than they had in the past. She went out and walked all around and through the beds. It was daffodils. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of daffodils. She and Bill had never put many spring plants in their gardens. They so enjoyed the colors of summer that they had only a few spring daffodils and hyacinths scattered here and there.

'Where did they come from?' she wondered as she walked. Not only did the blooms completely encircle each bed, they were also scattered inside, among the still-dormant summer plants. They appeared in groups all over the lawn, and even lined the driveway to the street. They ringed the trees and they lined the foundation of the house. She couldn't believe it. Where on earth had they come from?

A few days later she received a call from her attorney. He needed to see her, he said. Could she come to his office that morning? When Constance arrived, he handed her a package with instructions not to open it until she returned home. He gave no other explanation.

When she opened the package, there were two smaller packages inside. One was labeled "Open me first." Inside was a video cassette. Suddenly Bill appeared on the screen, talking to her from his favorite chair, dressed not in pajamas but in a sweater and slacks. "My darling Constance," he began, "today is our anniversary, and this is my gift to you."

He told her of his love for her. Then he explained the daffodils.

"I know these daffodils will be blooming on our anniversary, and will continue to do so forever," Bill said. "I couldn't plant them alone, though." Their many friends had conspired with Bill to get the bulbs planted. They had taken turns last fall getting Constance out of the house for hours at a time so the work could be done.

The second package held the memories of all those friends who so generously gave of their time and energies so Bill could give her his final gift. Photographs of everyone came spilling out, images captured forever of them working in the garden, laughing, taking turns snapping pictures and visiting with her beloved husband, who sat bundled in a lawn chair, watching.

In the photo Constance framed and put by her bed, Bill is smiling at her and waving his trowel.

by Nicolle Woodward





Downwind from Flowers

Several years ago in Seattle, Washington, there lived a 52-year-old Tibetan refugee. "Tenzin," as I will call him, was diagnosed with one of the more curable forms of lymphoma. He was admitted to the hospital and received his first dose of chemotherapy.

But during the treatment, this usually gentle man became extremely angry and upset. He pulled the IV out of his arm and refused to cooperate. He shouted at the nurses and became argumentative with everyone who came near him. The doctors and nurses were baffled.

Then Tenzin's wife spoke to the hospital staff. She told them Tenzin had been held as a political prisoner by the Chinese for 17 years. They killed his first wife and repeatedly tortured and brutalized him throughout his imprisonment. She told them that the hospital rules and regulations, coupled with the chemotherapy treatments, gave Tenzin horrible flashbacks of what he had suffered at the hands of the Chinese.

"I know you mean to help him," she said, "but he feels tortured by your treatments. They are causing him to feel hatred inside - just like he felt toward the Chinese. He would rather die than have to live with the hatred he is now feeling. And, according to our belief, it is very bad to have hatred in your heart at the time of death. He needs to be able to pray and cleanse his heart."

So the doctors discharged Tenzin and asked the hospice team to visit him in his home. I was the hospice nurse assigned to his care. I called a local representative from Amnesty International for advice. He told me that the only way to heal the damage from torture is to "talk it through."

"This person has lost his trust in humanity and feels hope is impossible," the man said. "If you are to help him, you must find a way to give him hope."

But when I encouraged Tenzin to talk about his experiences, he held up his hand and stopped me. He said, "I must learn to love again if I am to heal my soul. Your job is not to ask me questions. Your job is to teach me to love again."

I took a deep breath. I asked him, "So, how can I help you love again?" Tenzin immediately replied, "Sit down, drink my tea and eat my cookies."

Tibetan tea is strong black tea laced with yak butter and salt. It isn't easy to drink! But that is what I did.

For several weeks, Tenzin, his wife, and I sat together, drinking tea. We also worked with his doctors to find ways to treat his physical pain. But it was his spiritual pain that seemed to be lessening. Each time I arrived, Tenzin was sitting cross-legged on his bed, reciting prayers from his books. As time went on, he and his wife hung more and more colorful thankas, Tibetan Buddhist banners, on the walls. The room was fast becoming a beautiful, religious shrine.

When the spring came, I asked Tenzin what Tibetans do when they are ill in the spring. He smiled brightly and said, "We sit downwind from flowers."

I thought he must be speaking poetically. But Tenzin's words were quite literal. He told me Tibetans sit downwind so they can be dusted with the new blossoms' pollen that floats on the spring breeze. They feel this new pollen is strong medicine.

At first, finding enough blossoms seemed a bit daunting. Then, one of my friends suggested that Tenzin visit some of the local flower nurseries. I called the manager of one of the nurseries and explained the situation. The manager's initial response was: "You want to do what?" But when I explained the request, the manager agreed.

So, the next weekend, I picked up Tenzin and his wife with their provisions for the afternoon: black tea, butter, salt, cups, cookies, prayer beads and prayer books. I dropped them off at the nursery and assured them I would return at 5:00.

The following weekend, Tenzin and his wife visited another nursery.

The third weekend, they went to yet another nursery.

The fourth week, I began to get calls from the nurseries inviting Tenzin and his wife to come again. One of the managers said, "We've got a new shipment of nicotiana coming in and some wonderful fuchsias and oh, yes! Some great daphne. I know they would love the scent of that daphne! And I almost forgot! We have some new lawn furniture that Tenzin and his wife might enjoy."

Later that day, I got a call from the second nursery saying that they had colorful wind socks that would help Tenzin predict where the wind was blowing. Pretty soon, the nurseries were competing for Tenzin's visits.

People began to know and care about the Tibetan couple. The nursery employees started setting out the lawn furniture in the direction of the wind. Others would bring out fresh hot water for their tea. Some of the regular customers would leave their wagons of flowers near the two of them. It seemed that a community was growing around Tenzin and his wife.

At the end of the summer, Tenzin returned to his doctor for another CT scan to determine the extent of the spread of the cancer. But the doctor could find no evidence of cancer at all. He was dumbfounded. He told Tenzin that he just couldn't explain it.

Tenzin lifted his finger and said, "I know why the cancer has gone away. It could no longer live in a body that is filled with love. When I began to feel all the compassion from the hospice people, from the nursery employees, and all those people who wanted to know about me, I started to change inside. Now, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to heal in this way. Doctor, please don't think that your medicine is the only cure. Sometimes compassion can cure cancer, as well."

By Lee Paton
Submitted by Linda Ross Swanson
Reprinted by permission of Lee Paton 2000, from Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marion Owen, Cindy Buck, Cynthia Brian, Pat Stone and Carol Strugulewski.

With Spring around the corner, look for Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul in your bookstore today.