As I mentioned in the “about me” page, I have been writing a memoir about the loss of our middle son, Sam, and my journey in grief. For me, and for my husband, garlic has a huge role in our grief process, and through the garlic, we started to heal.
This is our son Sam, who died in 2013.
Sam loved farming. He worked for the last six months of his life on a near-by farm, and he was happier than we’d ever seen him. When he died in October of that year, we decorated the meeting house for his celebration of life with garlic and hot pepper plants and squash that he had helped grow.
The week following his death, we tried to just survive. Remembering to breathe, eat and keep hydrated was almost impossible. Finally, we realized we had the basket of garlic that he had helped grow left on the table. We decided to plant that garlic, to keep it going for Sam. We had tried to grow garlic before, with no success. But, with the deep-down sense that this was one way in which we could keep something that had mattered to Sam alive, we set out to learn how to grow garlic.
We separated the cloves, made wooden boxes, filled them with soil, made a guide for planting, planted them, covered them with soil, then mulched them. As we worked in the October sunshine that fall, we talked about Sam. We cried, we laughed, we talked to him, we talked to the cloves. Then, as much as we had such anger at a God that had allowed him to be taken from us, we prayed to the universe that the garlic would grow. Sam’s hands had touched that garlic — if it grew, we were somehow keeping his spirit alive.
All that winter we walked the garlic beds. When the garlic came up in the Spring, we celebrated. Then we harvested it.
After we harvested it, we then kept half to plant again that fall. Each October, around the anniversary of Sam’s death, we plant garlic again from his garlic. We repeat the process of planting, talking to him, talking about him, and begging the universe for another crop of his garlic.
This spring, the garlic was the most beautiful and healthy we’d ever grown. You can just see the greens on the left of the fence.
And we celebrated — this would be the best harvest yet. Then, this past week, tragedy struck.
Our beautiful, proud, tall garlic was smashed flat. One of our alpacas, Marc, had gotten out of his pasture, marched through the fence, and rolled and rolled and rolled in the garlic. The pain, sadness, anger, heartbreak on seeing that garlic smashed flat is almost indescribable. It isn’t the garlic, it’s that this is Sam’s garlic, and we hadn’t been able to protect it, just as we hadn’t been able to protect Sam. I know, if you haven’t lived through the hell of losing a child, that may seem like a silly thing to say, but if you have lost one, you understand what I mean.
Today, I trimmed the garlic. With tears running down my cheeks, I cut the scapes, saving them for pesto. Then I righted the stalks I could, and begged the universe to still give us a good harvest so we can keep Sam’s garlic going.
So, for much of the process, I couldn’t find gratitude for much of anything. I was too hurt, angry and sad to be thankful. But, finally, as I cleaned the scapes, and the entire kitchen filled with their scent, I could again be thankful for the ups and downs of watching Sam’s plants grow.