A Promise of Spring


Early in the spring, about a month before my grandpa’s stroke, I began walking for an hour every afternoon. Some days I would walk four blocks south to see Grandma and Grandpa. At eighty-six, Grandpa was still quite a gardener, so I always watched for his earliest blooms and each new wave of spring flowers.

I was especially interested in flowers that year because I was planning to landscape my own yard and I was eager to get Grandpa’s advice. I thought I knew pretty much what I wanted—a yard full of bushes and plants that would bloom from May till November.

It was right after the first rush of purple violets in the lawns and the sudden blaze of forsythia that spring that Grandpa had a stroke. It left him without speech and with no movement on his left side. The whole family rallied to Grandpa. We all spent many hours by his side. Some days his eyes were eloquent—laughing at our reported mishaps, listening alertly, revealing painful awareness of his inability to care for himself. There were days, too, when he slept most of the time, overcome with the weight of his approaching death.

As the months passed, I watched the growing earth with Grandpa’s eyes. Each time I was with him, I gave him a garden report. He listened, gripping my hand with the sure strength and calm he had always had. But he could not answer my questions. The new flowers would blaze, peak, fade, and die before I knew their names.

Grandpa’s illness held him through the spring and on, week by week, through summer. I began spending hours at the local nursery, studying and choosing seeds and plants. It gave me special joy to buy plants I had seen in Grandpa’s garden and give them humble starts in my own garden. I discovered Sweet William, which I had admired for years in Grandpa’s garden without knowing its name. And I planted it in his honor.

As I waited and watched in the garden and by Grandpa’s side, some quiet truths emerged. I realized that Grandpa loved flowers that were always in bloom; he kept a full bed of roses in his garden. But I noticed that Grandpa left plenty of room for the brief highlights. Not every nook of his garden was constantly in bloom. There was always a treasured surprise tucked somewhere.

I came to see, too, that Grandpa’s garden mirrored his life. He was a hard worker who understood the law of the harvest. But along with his hard work, Grandpa knew how to enjoy each season, each change. We often teased him about his life history. He had written two paragraphs summarizing fifty years of work, and a full nine pages about every trip and vacation he’d ever taken.

In July, Grandpa worsened. One hot afternoon, I arrived when no one else was at his bedside. He was glad to have me there, and reached out his hand to pull me close.

I told Grandpa what I had learned—that few flowers last from April to November. Some of the most beautiful bloom for only a month at most. To really enjoy a garden, you have to plant corners and drifts and rows of flowers that will bloom and grace the garden, each in its own season.

His eyes listened to every word. Then, another discovery: “If I want a garden like yours, Grandpa, I’m going to have to work.” His grin laughed at me, and his eyes teased me.

“Grandpa, in your life right now the chrysanthemums are in bloom. Chrysanthemums and roses.” Tears clouded both our eyes. Neither of us feared this last flower of fall, but the wait for spring seems longest in November. We knew how much we would miss each other.

Sitting there, I suddenly felt that the best gift I could give Grandpa would be to give voice to the testimony inside both of us. He had never spoken of his testimony to me, but it was such a part of his life that I had never questioned if Grandpa knew. I knew he knew.

“Grandpa,” I began—and his grip tightened as if he knew what I was going to say—“I want you to know that I have a testimony. I know the Savior lives. I bear witness to you that Joseph Smith is a prophet. I love the Restoration and joy in it.” The steadiness in Grandpa’s eyes told how much he felt it too. “I bear witness that President Kimball is a prophet. I know the Book of Mormon is true, Grandpa. Every part of me bears this witness.”

“Grandpa,” I added quietly, “I know our Father in Heaven loves you.” Unbidden, unexpected, the Spirit bore comforting, poignant testimony to me of our Father’s love for my humble, quiet Grandpa.

A tangible sense of Heavenly Father’s compassionate awareness of Grandpa’s suffering surrounded us and held us. It was so personal and powerful that no words were left to me—only tears of gratitude and humility, tears of comfort.

Grandpa and I wept together.

It was the end of August when Grandpa died, the end of summer. As we were choosing flowers from the florist for Grandpa’s funeral, I slipped away to Grandpa’s garden and walked with my memories of columbine and Sweet William. Only the tall lavender and white phlox were in bloom now, and some baby’s breath in another corner.

On impulse, I cut the prettiest strands of phlox and baby’s breath and made one more arrangement for the funeral. When they saw it, friends and family all smiled to see Grandpa’s flowers there. We all felt how much Grandpa would have liked that.

The October after Grandpa’s death, I planted tulip and daffodil bulbs, snowdrops, crocuses, and bluebells. Each bulb was a comfort to me, a love sent to Grandpa, a promise of spring.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Kathy England, mother of three, serves as Relief Society in-service leader in the Salt Lake Park Stake.