I used to tend my Grandmother's grave all the time. Before I was married, I lived very close to the cemetery and regularly visited her little corner of the world to say hello, plant pretty new flowers in the spring, and water and weed throughout the summer.
It never bothered me. It was peaceful. It was a way to feel close to her - to feel like I was doing something for her. And it was my way of showing the world (well, the cemetery dwelling world, anyway) that she was loved and not forgotten.
In 2004, when I was three months pregnant with Thomas, my Grandfather joined her. By that time I'd pretty much stopped being much of caretaker to the garden because I lived just far enough away (an hour round trip) for it not to be all that convenient anymore. My sister and my Mom, who'd shared the garden duties with me over the years, took over regular tending.
And then Thomas died. And he was buried there too.
And suddenly that quiet, peaceful place I'd always found comfort in was a terrible place where all I did was stand and cry, ripped wide open and bleeding from the pain of my sorrow and guilt.
I barely went. I didn't see the flowers at all last summer. Or the summer before. It was all I could do to place his Christmas wreath in November and take it off at the end of March. And sometimes I didn't even do that, letting my Mom or sister take care of the retrieval process for me.
I'd usually bring something on the rare occasions that I did drag myself there for a visit - a little teddy bear garden stake or a small bouquet - but I couldn't bring myself to actually look after the garden. Not the slightest bit. Not even to pull a weed or give it a shot of water. Nothing.
I might as well have been asked to climb Mount Everest as tend the garden.
Just making the trip took every last ounce of energy I had. And once I was there, weeping at the grave, leaving as fast as I could was my goal.
But for some reason yesterday everything changed. I went to the cemetery. Happily. Well, not happily, but with as much peace and contentment as it's possible to have when you're going to visit your son's grave site.
I took violas, snapdragons and alyssum, a bag of dirt, and all the gardening tools I'd need. I trimmed the two cedar bushes my Grandpa brought back from his cottage and lovingly planted there, I cleaned out the garden and topped it up with fresh earth, I planted my flowers, and I edged Thomas' plaque so that all the words could once again be seen.
I was there for more than an hour, happily weeding and tending and primping, as though the past three springs of my neglect had never even happened.
I don't know what seismic shift in my thinking - or perhaps in my healing - enabled me to do what I did yesterday. I absolutely haven't got a clue what made it easy - even pleasurable - to tend to the grave site garden after all this time.
But I know I'm glad it was.
And what all this proves to me is that healing comes when it comes. There's no time line you should follow - no time line you can follow. There's no schedule for the cessation of the aftershocks of grief. It just happens when it happens.
Slowly, slowly, slowly you return.