In the greenhouse of loss and love: An illustrated story

“I love you both so much. I hope you’ll forgive me, but there comes a time in old age when you hear the whispers of your ancestors.”

They found them in the greenhouse. It wasn’t much of a greenhouse, but to them it was a sanctuary. A safe place where she could work with soil and plants while he painted and listened to classical music.

Sometimes they’d take a break and have tea outside, at the edge of the lawn where they buried their old dog, Brownie. His death hit them hard. A harbinger for what they both knew the future held. But then they’d sip their tea and reminisce of the past and New England and their careers and children.

Artwork by John Patrick Weiss

Friends who visited often marveled at how the two had a sort of telepathic connection. Always finishing each other’s sentences.

She’d often say, with a twinkle in her eye:

“When you’ve been together as long as we have, well, you just know each other’s thoughts.”

With that, he’d smile and retort:

“And you know when not to say anything. I think that’s the key to a good marriage. Keep your mouth shut.”

The police received a call from their daughter, who lived four hours away in Springtown. “I’m concerned, they always answer the phone or call back. It’s been two days now,” she told the dispatcher.

And so, patrolmen were sent to their old, craftsman house on a tree lined cul-de-sac. They parked on the street and strolled down the nicely kept driveway, lined with trimmed hedges.

No response at the doorbell, so they went around to the side gate.

“I can see heat coming from the vent,” one of the police officers said. “Looks like their furnace is still on.”

And then he looked closely at the windows, for flies. A telltale sign of death. But nothing was there, just some small, potted succulents and two, wood-carved figurines.

The officers made their way to the backyard and walked along the footpath beside the lawn. They spied a small cross at the edge of the lawn, but had no idea that Brownie, the old collie, was buried there.

“Joe, let’s check the greenhouse,” said one of the officers. They opened the rickety, red door and slid past some tall, potted ferns.

And there they were, seemingly frozen in time. Curled up on the floor against the wall of the greenhouse, with a wool blanket wrapped around them. The old man had his arms around her. Like he was cradling and protecting her.

The officers found no evidence of foul play, but were perplexed by the scene. Until they found an envelope sitting atop the old man’s french easel.

The names Peter and Ashley were written in elegant cursive on the unsealed envelope. For investigative purposes, the officers opened the note and read it.

Dear Peter and Ashley,

Mom and I had a wonderful Sunday in the greenhouse. We enjoyed our tea and then got busy. I worked on my floral painting and Mom re-potted some lovely peonies. We were reminiscing about the vacation we all took that year to the Grand Canyon, and how Brownie got sick in the car.

And then Mom gave me this strange look, and collapsed.

I held her and said I’d call for help but she whispered no, that it was alright. Then she looked up at me and said she was ready. And we both cried. So, I held her for a long time. I grabbed the old wool blanket in the cabinet and wrapped us up in it. I rocked her for awhile but knew she was gone.

And I guess something inside of me gave up. It started to get chilly, but I decided to stay with Mom.

I love you both so much. I hope you’ll forgive me, but there comes a time in old age when you hear the whispers of your ancestors. And when the love of your life crosses over the vale, well, you feel left behind.

If I were younger and my body not so ravaged, I would have stuck around a bit longer. But most days I don’t feel so well. I’ve lived longer than I ever expected. Besides Mom, both of you are the greatest gift a man could ever have. I’m proud of you both and will always be with you. But I don’t want Mom to make this journey alone.

So, I’m just going to stay with her now.

All my love, always,

Dad

The officers stood speechless after reading the letter. They had never witnessed a scene like this before. Heart wrenching, yet beautiful at the same time.

Joe, the officer who read the letter, was married. He couldn’t help but think about his wife.

The officers called the coroner and police chaplain. It was determined the old gentleman had succumbed to exposure. The couple’s children were notified and when read the letter, they wept and held each other. They later learned that the old couple had their financial affairs in order, and that both children had been provided for.

At the end of his shift, Officer Joe stopped by a florist’s shop. When he arrived at home he found his wife in the kitchen, slicing some bell peppers for the dinner she was preparing.

She asked how his day went, but he didn’t answer. She turned around to face him and he handed her the beautiful bouquet of flowers. “Oh, Joe, how lovely. Thank you, sweetheart.” She kissed him and he held her close, whispering, “I love you, honey.”

She got a vase out of the cupboard and said, “This is the first time you got me peonies. How beautiful.”

Then she turned to Joe and looked into his moist, glistening eyes. “Is everything alright, honey?” she asked.

“Everything is perfect,” Joe said. And then he held her tightly, for a long time, never wanting to let her go.

Before you go

I’m John Patrick Weiss. Fine artist and writer. Get on my free email list for the latest artwork and writing. No spam, privacy respected.

This article first appeared on Medium.