At the beginning of this month we buried my father-in-law. He had been living well for some time with cancer, but in his last few weeks, the disease overwhelmed his body. Because he had chosen to enter hospice in his own home, everyone in the family had some precious time to sit with him in his last days. My husband learned more about his service in the military, while I discovered the mischievous side of a man who had heretofore seemed to be rather proper. Before this time, I would have remembered him best for his laugh and the way every story he told tickled him so much he could barely get through it. Over the years, I had heard each of these stories at least a few times. They still never failed to reduce him to fits of staccato giggles. Now, I will forever remember him for the honesty, integrity and beauty with which he embraced the time of his transition between this life and the next.
In the days that followed his death, the family prepared for how they would celebrate his life and allow people to come pay their respects. Flowers have long been sent to decorate the room where loved ones watch until burial. Ironically, my father-in-law wasn’t a big fan of flowers. His funeral was sparsely decorated, and instead, we chose greens and cattails to celebrate his love of fishing.
There is, however, a long history of retreating to the garden to grieve and remember. The garden embodies the very essence of life moving from one form to another but never ceasing. My son, who is 5, when asked how he felt about his grandfather’s passing said this: “Butterflies are beautiful for only a little bit. Just before they die they lay eggs. When they are gone the eggs hatch and life recycles.”
I began to think about how we might start a memorial garden here on the farm for the loved ones we have lost. A butterfly garden planted with my children seems to be a great way to honor their grandfather. We will start with a few varieties of milkweed and add natives from there. A garden memorial should remind us that life continues, if only in a different form. It should be a place where you can feel your loved one in the wind and hear them laughing in the flowers.
If you’ve lost someone this season, here are a few plants that are particularly appropriate in a memorial garden.
1. Anemone (Anemone spp.)
In Greek mythology, Chloris, the goddess of flowers, asked the west wind to transform the body of the nymph Anenome, who had died of a broken heart, into a flower.
2. Rose (Rosa rugosa)
Once again, Chloris finds the body of a beautiful nymph in the forest, and she was sad. She gave her new life by transforming her into the most beautiful flower ever before seen: the rose.
3. Linden Tree (Tilia spp.) or 4. Oak Tree (Quercus spp.)
These trees are special because of the legend of Baucis and Philemon. Theirs was a love for the ages. They never wanted to be parted, so Zeus allowed them to die at the same moment and be turned into trees that grew side by side. Baucis became the linden and Philemon the oak.
Above all the plants you choose should be those that bring you peace and help you honor the memory of your loved ones who have passed.