I Come to the Garden Alone

During the last year of her life, my mother lived in South Deerfield, and we went to church together every Sunday at the South Deerfield Congregational Church. I will always be grateful to the members of the church and to Rev. Barbara Seamon for the fellowship and compassion they showed for my mom.

My mom had a fast-acting form of dementia. She didn’t really know who we all were, but she enjoyed the familiar setting of the church service. She could follow the service in the program and turn to the right pages in the hymnal.

Once, when the usher came down the aisle with the collection plate, she said, “We know why you’re here.” It cracked everybody up.

Church was the high point of the week. Every day Sally would ask if we were going to church and once a week I got to say yes. When we got there, she always asked if that was the church, and I would say, no, it’s a shoe store; you can tell by the pointy thing on top.

And she loved the sweets at the coffee hour. I guess I’m lucky in a strange sort of way. Not many people get to meet their mother as a little girl. During her first childhood, she was a sad and lonely little girl who always felt left out. We never knew this as kids, or even as adults. It was something she told to her granddaughters.

It explains why, as we were growing up, she always made sure no child ever felt left out. So many of my friends and my brothers’ friends have written us to say that they will always remember how Sally made them feel welcome and — this was her secret — spoke to them not as children, but as fellow human beings.

Growing up, I always took that for granted. It wasn’t until I met her as a little girl that I saw what she was doing: making sure no one ever had to feel the way she felt as a child. That was the driving force in her life, and that’s a great thing, a remarkable thing, and I wish I had appreciated it more while she was alive.

As more and more of her faculties were stripped away by the disease, we could see what was inside. All that was left was this driving force of love and good humor and compassion for others. And bravery. I will always be proud of how brave she was.

Reverend Barb is at the Sunderland Congregational Church now, and I went to the service there this morning. I was fine until we sang “I Come to the Garden Alone.” My mom had a beautiful garden.

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me  I am his own,
And the love we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Next time I’ll remember to bring a hanky.