Dr. Peter Lichtenberg Reflects on Healing
To my mother’s dismay, I never took to gardening. She loved to garden and spent countless hours making her garden a thing of beauty, and enjoying other people’s gardens as well. When we would take walks together, she often would stop and provide a little free weeding for people’s gardens—just too hard to walk by without taking care of those darn weeds.
My mother loved my wife Susan for lots of reasons, and one of the things they had in common was a love of gardening. Susan got it from her father who had a beautiful garden of perennials and vegetables. I loved looking out the windows of our house and watching Susan gardening: pulling out weeds, replanting her perennials, watering her vegetables. Always creative, Susan even grew pumpkins for the kids at Halloween. Alas, despite hiring someone to periodically weed and mulch Susan’s garden, it became sorely neglected across the six years subsequent to her death. That all changed this year.
This spring I was beside myself with joy to see my wife Debbie out reclaiming not only the garden, but also our lawn. Day after day Debbie has been out planting, weeding, re-planting and watering, and putting down mulch for the garden and seed for the grass. There is an incredible continuity to my life tied to watching Debbie love her garden and watching her move in and out of her plantings. I always felt that my wife Becky, who died at age 25, handed me to Susan and expected us to live a full life.
This spring, the first spring together in our home, I can feel Susan handing me to Debbie “Cultivate Peter as you do the garden,” I can hear and feel her telling us. Continuity, that sense of continuing the life I created with Becky and with Susan, is such an important part of my healing. Beauty, connecting my mother, Susan and Debbie, is bringing me a recognition of the continuity in my life. Although I still don’t like to garden . . . I do love to watch the joy each of these women experiences in the garden.
Peter Lichtenberg, June 15, 2020
Grief & Healing
Peter A. Lichtenberg, Ph.D. is the Director of both Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, the Institute of Gerontology and the Founding Director of the Wayne State University Lifespan Alliance. Dr. Lichtenberg is also a Professor of Psychology and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.