Maybe the real reason some people don’t like gardening has little to do with the time and effort required, the proximity to deadly spiders or the pesky dirt under the nails. Maybe it’s the way it punctures their denial.

Gardening smacks us in the face with the life cycle in miniature, providing a possibly unwelcome reminder of where everything begins, and where it’s headed — from birth to … um, how can I put this without saying the d-word? … not-life.

As a committed gardener, you have to be completely comfortable with that, and open to experiencing the full range of emotion and outcomes.

You plant a seed and watch it grow, getting excited by its potential and invested in its success. When a squirrel digs it up or a slug consumes that first green sprout, you get angry and vengeful. And if it shrivels and starts to fail, you provide loving, attentive care — propping it up and nourishing it as much as possible until the unwelcome but inevitable end finally arrives.

I have no idea whether there are more long-term care gardeners than in other professions, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Because for us, gardening is what we do — just accepting people and situations as they are, thrilled with triumphs and saddened by setbacks, and helping where we can.

Like gardeners, we spend the bulk of our time simply respecting life — being there for folks with our skill and compassion, no matter what twists and turns their journeys happen to take.

For some who pass through our doors, there’s the promise of success and the possibility of future harvest — getting them back home to the lives they love. For others in our care, though we can provide little more than comfort, support and presence, we’re honored and eager to do so.  

At the end of each day, whether in gardening or long-term care, we walk away with a deep respect and reverence for the nature of life itself, as well as embracing the ultimate reality and beauty of death.

There’s that dreaded d-word again. And yes, in long-term care, we say it out loud, without fear or denial. Because we’re gardeners.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.