An overly talkative chaplain helped me get a green thumb
The house plant I neither wanted nor expected became therapeutic
I scowled at the green nuisance sitting on the rolling table, wondering why in the world the chaplain brought this plant over. My grandfather had just turned 95 years old. He was a trained mechanic, a master chef, a veteran and married for 49 years. He built his home from the ground up and rarely if ever hired anyone to fix anything, from plumbing to roof repairs. I respected this Renaissance man for everything—minus his fascination with plants.
My mother and he shared this love of talking to their plants. My grandfather had a fruit and vegetable garden. Although he has photographs of a kindergarten-sized me planting an apple tree, there are more photos of me just running and jumping in the yard trying to flee. My mother had plants in our living room that were big enough to touch the ceiling. And they loved the hell out of these green creatures.
I, on the other hand, had a black thumb and absolutely no interest in owning one plant. I successfully killed a plant I was left to care for, during one year as a receptionist. The idea of watering, feeding and talking to these things was for weirdos.
How I got stuck with a new plant
My grandfather had been hospitalized for three weeks. So how was he going to take care of this plant that the chaplain brought over? An aunt (his oldest daughter), my parents and I took scheduled rotations to be caregivers for him. He’d been in the hospital twice already.
I didn’t mind the caregiving, considering I’d already made an enemy out of three nurses in the hospitals and short-term facilities. They just weren’t caring for him the way I needed them to. But I huffed about that damn plant every single time I saw it.
Meanwhile, the chaplain just wouldn’t hang out with my grandfather and leave. Nurses, on the other hand, would chat for a few minutes but be too busy bathing him and confirming his medication to bother me. However, this chaplain had too much free time. Instead of talking to my grandfather, he wanted to talk my ear off. He asked me offensive things like, “How are you?” The nerve. I am not the one who was hospitalized. Go talk to my grandfather. I’m the caregiver; don’t worry about my feelings.
He asked me offensive things like, “How are you?” The nerve.
While I was trying to figure out how to get an Internet connection, answer concerned calls from my grandfather’s friends, respond to emails from my nerve-racking boss and the rest of my work team, and make sure my grandfather was comfortable and clean in his home-care bed, this chaplain followed me around wanting to talk. I wanted him to go home.
My grandfather passed away in July, a month after the plant arrived. I took a couple of things that he’d already written down for me to take (he didn’t have a will): “The Golden Girls” and “All in the Family” DVD sets, his TV and TV stand, and this painting of a black girl with wild hair.
But before I walked out the door with the moving van to deliver these things to my home, I scowled at that arrowhead plant again. And I took it. I felt responsible for keeping that plant alive in honor of my grandfather.
I’d had a black thumb my entire life, but that arrowhead plant lasted two years and grew so fast and furious that it started to hang off of my coffee table. The only reason I don’t have it now is that I bought a condo a year later in a far less humid building. The plant went into shock and died.
I tried hard to save it. Then there was relief. No more plants. No more watering, feeding and talking to these plants like my strange mother and grandfather. Oddly, I realized I missed taking care of the chaplain’s plant. It felt like a living piece of my grandfather, even if he never got to care for it. So I bought four water orchids for my office desk and home. Almost two months later, the ice cubes stopped working and the orchids died. (They were never meant to last longer than that.)
The massive TV, the paintings and singing the opening to “The Golden Girls” were all appreciated, but there was something about having a plant. I wanted a new one. In January (five months after the chaplain’s plant died), I got arrogant and bought four plants. Every day, I checked on them and fed/watered them as needed. Even while dogsitting, I still went home to make sure they got proper light and opened the blinds.
While this green thumb quiz says my personality is most suited for Cacti and Zamiocolcus zamiofolia (ZZ plants), I would’ve said no plant fit me—before now. However, that meddlesome chaplain taught me two things: 1. Caregivers should be asked how they’re doing even when they’d rather focus on everyone but themselves. 2. Apparently, chaplains can bring out talents in you that you didn’t know you had: green thumbs.
Writer’s note: This post has been edited and updated. It was originally published on Medium in the “Live Your Love On Purpose” publication.
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