Connie has been my neighbor for most of my life. As a kid, I played with her son Eric and tried to outrun her daughters, Missy and Tammy, as they threw crab apples at us (they were older). Her youngest son, Kirk, and I went on an adventure riding our bikes to the end of Belle River Road. That outing was a dud as the road wasn’t half as long as we thought, which is probably why our mothers told us we could do it.
These days, Connie is alone in many of the important ways. Of her four children, only one is left. She lost Missy in high school, Kirk was killed while I was off at college, and most recently, Eric died of an accidental overdose. That last one stung as Eric and I had been good friends through most of our childhood. We even met up once in Texas to go to Astroworld (both of our dads lived in the Houston area). Tammy lives in the south now and for several years, Connie was raising Kirk’s daughter, Elizabeth. During that period, Elizabeth had struggled with cancer which Connie saw her through to remission. Once she was well, Elizabeth’s mom decided she wanted her daughter back. I mean, all the heavy lifting was done so why not?
These days, Connie is always on the move. We often see her out on city-wide walks she takes every day she can. I can’t blame her. I’m sure every moment sitting alone is filled with thoughts of “what did I do wrong?”
Though I don’t think Connie realizes it, through this whole ordeal she’s managed to do something human beings sometimes do to justify our existence: she’s taken her pain and turned it into something beautiful.
Over the last several years, Connie’s yard has been transformed into one of the most impressive gardens I’ve ever seen. The entire back half of her property is a dense flower garden with just about every variety that will grow in our climate. She has a gate that takes your from our back yard into this section and along winding paths paved with whatever stones, bricks, and patio blocks Connie has been able to find and piece together into beautiful walkways. The outer edge of her property is lined with flower beds of every color. In the middle, she’s created areas such as a small pond and fountain, a wrought iron table and chairs surrounded by roses, and my personal favorite, an elaborate railing from a Victorian era bridge with twisting vines and a dedication to Missy hanging above it. The front area around her porch is a rose garden.
As you can imagine it takes an incredible effort on Connie’s part to keep it all up. When she isn’t working or out on her walks, you can usually find her working on whatever area needs her attention that day. Several of the plants and flowers aren’t native to Michigan and to keep them alive in the winter, she transplants them to her basement before replanting them again in the spring. Whenever I mention how impressed I am by her work ethic, she tells me “I’ve got to keep busy or I might go crazy.”
The garden doesn’t heal Connie’s pain. It may ease it but a garden can never bring back what you’ve lost, no matter how beautiful it is. But as I said, out of the awful emotions tragedy brings, Connie has dedicated herself to creating beauty. Many would respond by creating more tragedy. I don’t know if Connie is able to view it this way. It’s much easier to have that perspective as an outsider looking in. It would make me very happy if she someday could. She deserves at least that much.