Sow There!: One year anniversary of a death, on an up note 10/26/2017

Cool-season veggies like kale and spinach are now in the ground following the first rain of the season.
Cool-season veggies like kale and spinach are now in the ground following the first rain of the season.Photo by Heather Hacking
Twenty-eight pumpkins along the classroom wall are just temporary decorations as 28 third-graders took each one home at the end of the day.
Twenty-eight pumpkins along the classroom wall are just temporary decorations as 28 third-graders took each one home at the end of the day.Photo by Heather Hacking

I planted spinach and kale this week, the day after the first rain.

Cool-season veggies, putting bulbs in the ground, the first rain — all reminders that time is passing.

A year ago, the Handsome Woodsman sent me a text with a photo of the sprouts in the raised bed.

“I think we’re going to be proud parents of lettuce,” Dave wrote, just a few weeks before his death in a car accident.

I thought of him when I planted seeds in the same plot this week, where his fingers had pressed into soil a year ago. His green resin garden chair still points toward the garden, looking a little more worn after a long summer in the sun.

I had been warned the anniversary of his death would be tough.

A year ago, I was in class at Chico State University. Often, I lingered to talk with Prof. Zartman, who has become a friend and mentor during my path to becoming a teacher. It was dark when I turned on my cell phone. Messages of condolence had been sent hours before the heavy knock from the sheriff on my front door.

Recently, I was in need of a pep-talk and stopped by my professor’s book-filled cubby of an office.

“You might want to prepare yourself,” he said intently, after filling my head with good advice.

He wasn’t talking about being prepared to teach 8-year-olds. He was talking about the anniversary of Dave’s death.

He remembers it as well, because he was among many who helped me make it through those final few weeks of the semester, and later helped remind me of the life God has planned for me.

As he had warned, the heavy ache returned in early October — the brain fog from those early days. I heard Dave’s guitar in my head and started wearing his old sweaters.


Yet, before I could fall into a formal funk, my step-brother died Oct. 6.

Christopher was 42. He has three children and a wife who love him. We are waiting for news from the autopsy, when we’ll know what caused his sudden death one morning while the family was sleeping.

What we know so far is that losing him was wrong.

I remembered my own shock, the fog of grief that thankfully covers your mind when the unthinkable is too difficult to think about. For my step-mother, my brother’s wife, his children and others, the process is only now beginning.

My first instinct was to give them advice. I have a lot of information about this particular topic.

In fact, I’ve kept notes. I’ve written in my journal about each angst, seeing red-shouldered hawks over my driveway, the pain of using up our “shared” dish soap, quiet times when I talked to him out loud, and the dreams where it seemed like we resolved misunderstandings.

I’ve fought through times when I knew what it must be like to be on the edge of depression, and kept a tally of unexpected kindnesses. I’ve felt the presence of God in ways that could only be described through music.

Yet, for my family, who had my step-brother as a central part of their lives, that first year of grief has just begun.

I want to tell them so much. I want to remind them to seek out things that bring them joy and to cling more tightly to those to the left and to the right, who don’t know what to do and don’t know what to say.

But now is not the time.

They have a long year ahead of them.


When I look at my journal entries these days, I see that they are filled with more than an analysis of the grieving process.

Last week I got a call from Karen at the Patrick Ranch.

“How many students do you have in your class?” she asked.

“Why? What are you planning?” I could hear her smile through the phone.

“Come by the ranch on Saturday morning.”

Two days later I felt like the pumpkin queen as I hauled 28 mini pumpkins and lined them against the wall by the classroom whiteboard.

“Why are there pumpkins in the room?” the children asked. My mentor teacher just smiled and said: “Aren’t they great decorations?”

“But Miss Hacking,” one child reasoned. “There are 28 pumpkins and there are 28 students in our class.” At the end of the day, the 8-year-old learned her reasoning was sound.

I wish we had turned those pumpkins into a lesson about division.

For literally hundreds of prior columns, some including actual gardening advice, go to To send snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927.

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