Last night my grandmother passed away.
It was death by caner and it was a slow one at that. So in many ways, yesterday was a good day. It was an end to the pain and the suffering of one who lived a very full and long life. It was also the day romantic love died.
She has been spending the last week or so talking about my grandfather a lot. He passed in 2007. She has been talking about seeing him again and being with him again with a girlish smile on her face like a young lover waiting to see their sweetheart again.
She was without him before when he, along with many other young men, went off to war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She got to see him again when he got home and in short order, they did like so many others and started making babies.
When they started their love story she made sodas at a pharmacy and he was a pinsetter at a bowling alley and also worked at a grocery store. They would go to Riverveiw on dates. He once beat the hell out of a guy who spoke badly of her. He went on to be a golden gloves boxer, a soldier, and an airline mechanic. She worked in the post office and a few other things and was even the lunch lady at my school when I was young.
For over 50 years they were married and they had joys and sorrows and tears and fights and laughter and children and loss and gains and so much more.
Here is my point. 1 year of courtship, 52 years of marriage and 9 years of separation by death and there was still a gleam in her eye about the prospect of seeing him again. I hope there is some form of afterlife so they can have their sweetheart's dance again. I am sure they will also find something to argue about as well and it will be a delight.
Here is the thing though. Romantic love is not fiction. It is not dead. A sweetheart died and may have joined the other sweetheart.
For every person that tells me lifelong love, romantic love, and the whole thing is just a fiction, I think about the gleam in her eye. I think about the elderly couple I once saw outside of Panera Bread with his feeble arm lifting her over a curb with tenderness and care, I think of my Elizabeth Taylor loving English teacher who finally got to marry his boyfriend of over 30 years when it became legal in Illinois and I think of others that I know.
Romance exists. True love is real. Sweethearts can grow old together.
It takes work. It takes hard hard work. It takes ceaseless wooing and affection even when you don't want to cuddle. It takes patience and understanding. Some people say it should not be work, it should all just happen.
This is why I always go to the example of a garden. Gardens are beautiful and if well tended, can last for decades. Gardens get damaged by storms, bugs, predators, and there are weeds.
You have to tend a garden. It is work. You cannot say gardens are not real. Gardens should not take work, they should just happen. If you want to grow something beautiful, there will be days you will have dirt under your nails, sweat on your brow, sore knees, blood from thorns, and other hardships. But that is not all a gardener does. One who tends a garden gets to enjoy the beauty they have created while sipping morning coffee or having evening wine in a manner others who just look at gardens can never appreciate. A gardener gets to taste the sweet fruits of love that grow from the vine they created and savor all of it's flavors and sweetness.
I know that there are liars and sociopaths and abusers and horrible people out there. I know they can make someone so wounded and traumatized they may not ever want to try to plant seeds of love again. I will never make light of PTSD or abuse.
I will close with this.
If you want to say I am afraid to garden. I was hurt gardening. I had a horrible partner to garden with. Gardening is too much work for me. That is fine. But do not say gardens and gardeners are not real. Do not say it does not exist. Of course it takes work, but it is beautiful. I wish more people would plant the seeds, tend the gardens, and wear matching sun hats. It is a beautiful world when sweethearts prove the poets and the minstrels right.
Last night a sweetheart died. We lost a gardener. Romantic love died so it could live on. May some of us be brave enough to tend the garden of love, passion, romance and beauty. It exists. But you have to make it.
I am born of the garden. I was their fruit. It is as real as I am.