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Essay: Memorial Day Garden

Every Memorial Day, I plant a few annual flowers in a sunny corner of my back yard. It’s not much of a garden but the ritual nourishes me. When I put the zinnias and marigolds in the dirt, they’re so frail, it’s hard to believe they’ll survive.

But by mid-July, the blossoms are two feet high and glowing with color—red and pink, orange and yellow. They follow the sun from east to west every day and greet me when I pass by.

Three years ago in May, my daughter was being treated for cancer. We spent our days going to appointments and therapies—trying to keep our hopes up.

“I don’t feel much like planting a garden,” I told Sara, “but I don’t want the sadness to win.”

The sadness and fear and exhaustion.

So I put the flowers in the ground.

The following May, Sara was in hospice care.

“I planted the garden,” I told her and she nodded. “I don’t want the sadness to win.”

The sadness and anger and despair.

Sara didn’t live to see the tall bright blossoms but I brought my lawn chair out to the garden where we liked to sit and drink coffee together.

This year I will plant my Memorial Day garden again. It doesn’t get easier, only more necessary.

Karen Anderson is a writer who lives and works in Traverse City, Michigan. She was a columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle for 30 years and published two collections.