Today, I faced one of my recent fears. It wasn't what many might consider to be a fear, but for me, it was huge. With a knot in my stomach, I drove up to 64b, the community garden I set up in 2020 as part of the Phoenix Project.
I had been all too aware that I had been putting this off for several weeks, conscious it was what I needed, but equally not wanting to face the emotions I knew it would unearth for me. I wasn't wrong.
The drive there reminded me of the drive to Finn's funeral just three weeks ago. Maybe it was the knot in my stomach. Maybe it was the overwhelming urge to turn around and go home, to return to my old life. As I pulled up, I took a deep breath as I made myself get out of the car, just as I had done when we pulled into the car park outside the beautiful ceremony hall. I noticed that I was nervous about several things. Firstly, the state of the plot - I had not been up there since Storm Eunice in February, and was worried that the glass would have blown out of both our greenhouses, covering the plot in broken glass, a potential symbol of destruction and hopelessness. Secondly, me being normally a chatty, friendly sort of plot holder, I would often stop to chat to my neighbouring gardeners about life in general, my four children, the weather... but today I hoped for silence - no awkward questions, no 'how are the kids', and absolutely, without question, no 'how's Finn getting on?'.
Pleasantly surprised by the state of the garden, I inspected the bottom greenhouse with another deep breath. Somewhere, in the irrationally optimistic part of my mind, I had held some small glimmer of hope that the seeds I had planted in early February may still be alive.
Of course, I was disappointed. Dead. Everything dead....including the many herb and chamomile plants that I had lovingly protected over the winter and nurtured carefully from a seed. Just like my boy, I thought. My heart dropped to my stomach as I questioned how I would begin to make sense of this loss. Seeds can be replanted. Finn is irreplaceable.
I left the greenhouse and took a moment to take stock of the garden in front of me, as I always do. Memories flooded my mind - Finn had helped me turn this space from a patch of 6 foot grass into a working plot. He had pushed barrow loads of mud and soil from one end to the other, prodded bonfires, toasted marshmallows, helped me dig the ground. One day Adam and I worked him so hard he fell asleep at the table with his arms crossed under his beautiful face. With a pickaxe, he'd lovingly dug out trenches for the paths in the heat of the summer sun. How would I ever work this ground again without it being an eternal memory of what I was missing?
A soft, familiar, elderly voice broke my train of thought.
"Oh Hi", I called back, smiling politely.
"How's the baby, still being good?". She was referring to Floryn, now 13 weeks old. My friendly plot-neighbour had watched me transform the space shortly after my miscarriage two years ago, and had watched me garden again as my rainbow baby bump grew enormous last year. She had seen me digging the plot in January, with myself and Floryn wrapped up warmly against the harsh winter air.
"Yes, she's great", I replied, leaving a huge part of my story unsaid.
"Oh good....lucky you", she replied.
I let the words hang in the air, smiling gently at the innocence and irony of the comment. Lucky me.
I replanted the seeds in the greenhouse, exact replica's of the ones that had died, and watered them in. I do not like gloves, so my hands are my tools, and they connect me to the Earth in a way that I cannot even explain the power of. As I sprinkled fresh soil over the newly sown seeds, I realised that the last time I had soil on my hands was as I awkwardly threw some onto Finn's coffin as it lay in the ground before me. Everything returns to the Earth, I thought, trying to take some small comfort in the circle of life and death.
Feeling pleased with my newly watered, tiny symbols of Hope, I sat down on the bench and surveyed the plot again; the bigger picture. The pots of spring bulbs which I had thrown in the ground in a hurry one Wintery day, heavily pregnant, were now blooming beautifully. They were enjoying the horse manure which Finn, Adam, Etta and I had collected in late Autumn, with bags and shovels, from a local friend's stable. As a child, he had loved horses. Was everything going to remind me of him, I thought? Then, having to remind myself that everything already did. I can assure you, there is nothing in a Mother's life that doesn't remind her of her child. This is especially true of a child that is no longer alive.
I looked around, grateful that I could be silent for the rest of my time on the plot today. The topic of mental health had been mentioned at 64b many, many times. Some of the people I work with openly discuss it; we openly discuss it. I was often generous and authentic about my past struggles with my own mental health, and sometimes, where appropriate, my constant efforts to find professional support for Finn and his many struggles. My ADHD baby, my troubled teen, my biggest focus of the last fifteen years. As most parents with a child with additional needs will testify, there wasn't a day that went by where I wasn't doing something to try and help him; send an email, make a call, drive him to therapy, talk to him about his challenges, remind him of his talents, help him with his routines, his hygiene, his self care, pick up his medication and remind him to take it, help him to manage his diet and his relationships, prepare him life changes that, because of his needs, would sometimes rock him off balance.
Finn had been through a multitude of challenges since lockdown, and I was proud of his apparent resilience. The lifelong victim of an abusive and alcoholic Father, Finn had finally made his own choice to walk away from him. He was home. He was safe. He had just done well in his mock exams. He had joined the gym, and we had started training for a 5k together. He had secured a college place for September to do the one subject he loved - graphic design. Only several weeks before he passed, he had been discussing ideas for his sixteenth birthday in July. Then, one night, after a seemingly unexceptional day, he decided to leave his life, and his family. We will never know completely why, though I often have theories. I try not to stray into blame - it doesn't help me, it won't help him, and ultimately, we will never know all the answers.
It is often said that one cannot garden without hope. I have come to accept that I now cannot hope for anything more for Finn, despite the vast amount of hope I had, for his recovery from trauma, and for his future.
What I do know is that by placing my hands in that soil today, I made the decision to hope. I do not hope to return to my old self, my old life. I do not hope to 'recover' or 'get over it' - from what I've heard from other bereaved parents, that just isn't how it works.
Instead, I hope for the best version of the new life I have in front of me; the one without my boy.