When bad things happen, find solace in the garden.

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Beautyberry
Credit: Steve Bender

Southern Living is supposed to be happy place. We let newspapers, television, radio, and social media cover the natural disasters, politics, scandals, pandemics, senseless acts, and planet-killing asteroids perfectly timed to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner. Southern Living offers an escape from those things, a time to catch your breath and focus on what is right with the world. So it troubles me a bit to upend that philosophy by passing along some sad news from my life. However, I promise a happy ending.

A little more than a week ago, I received a phone call just as I was about to turn out the light and go to bed. A late-night phone call hardly ever brings good news. It didn’t. The call came from my older brother, Ed, who lives in West Virginia. Three days after my mother’s 98th birthday, our younger brother, Chris, died suddenly from a heart attack.

Chris had been taking care of her every day for at least two years, fixing a good dinner every night, and making sure she took her pills and got her eyedrops. This way she could live at home. Keeping COVID out of the house consumed my brother. Eventually, the stress proved too much.

Steve Bender and his brothers
Credit: Donna Bender

Looking for photos to remember him by, I came upon this one. During past visits, gathering with my brothers in my mother’s basement to sample and critique craft beers became a hallowed tradition. That’s me in the middle, Chris facing the camera to my right, and Ed to my left. We probably spent more time in that basement than absolutely necessary, but as I understand it, enjoying good brew with your siblings has that effect on people.

So what does my family tragedy have to do with you and your garden? It has to do with coping – going on with your life as you must, even as someone dear to you will not be.

When bad things happen, I find my greatest solace comes from my garden. Mulching, mowing, trimming, pruning, doing my daily afternoon perimeter walk to see what’s new (always with a Manhattan in hand) puts me at peace. I fill the bird feeder, bend down to inspect the little cyclamen flowers peeking up through the oak leaves, admire the purple jewels on the beautyberries, and ruminate on the upcoming spring, when the daffodils and snowflakes will be blooming.

The greatest joy, however, comes from planting. Long after children have left home for college or embark on careers, I can set another living thing on the right path on any day of my choosing.

Thus, I beg a favor of you. Plant something this fall. It can be anything – a tree, flower, bulb, shrub, whatever. Plant it anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It doesn’t matter. You are now that plant’s parent and it your child. You have planted a new life. What a marvelous thing.