They had just celebrated their 39th anniversary in April when Bill went for
his annual checkup. Always in perfect health, he was unprepared for what
the doctor found. Symptoms Bill had ignored as "old age" led to questions,
palpations, more questions, and finally instructions for a battery of tests.
"Just to be on the safe side," the doctor said. When Bill took the news
home to Constance, she refused to consider that it could be something serious.
Fortunately, it was April and the gardens beckoned. There was more than
enough work needed to prepare the beds for the coming season, and they
threw themselves into the now-familiar yearly routine. They spent their
days, as always, surrounded by trays of flowers and bags of mulch, wielding
their favorite trowels.
As the summer progressed, 30 years of gardening rewarded them with a
showplace of color. Benches and swings were placed amid the bounty of
flowers, and they spent nearly every evening during the summer relaxing and
basking in the beauty.
As they worked, Constance began to notice a subtle change in Bill. He
seemed to tire more easily, had difficulty rising from his knees, and had
little appetite. By the time the test results were in, she was no longer so
sure of a good prognosis.
When the doctor ushered them into his office, she knew. His demeanor was
too professional, too unlike the friend they had known and trusted for so
many years. There was no easy way to say it. Bill was dying, with so little
hope of curing his illness that it would be kinder to not even try. He had
perhaps six months left, time enough to put his house in order, but little
time for anything else.
They decided he would stay at home, with help from visiting nurses and
hospice when the time came. Their children were both far away, one in
Oregon and the other in Chicago. They came for extended visits, but with
jobs and children, neither could come permanently. So Bill and Constance
spent the ending time as they had spent the beginning time, alone together.
Only now they had their beloved gardens, a great comfort to them both for
that entire summer.
By September, Bill was fading fast and they both knew the end was near. For
some reason Constance couldn't understand, he seemed to be pushing her to
get out more. He urged her to call old friends and have lunch, go shopping,
see a movie. She resisted until he became so agitated that she conceded and
began making her calls. Everyone was more than willing to accompany her,
and she found she did take some comfort in talking over lunch or during the
long ride to the mall.
Bill passed away peacefully in October, surrounded by his family. Constance
was inconsolable. No amount of knowing could have prepared her for the
emptiness she felt. Winter descended upon her with a vengeance. Suddenly it
seemed dark all the time. Then the holidays came, and she went to Oregon
for Thanksgiving and to Chicago for Christmas. The house was cold and empty
when she returned. She wasn't quite sure how she could go on, but somehow
At long last, it was April again, and with April came the return to longer
and warmer days. She would go from window to window looking out at the
yard, knowing what needed to be done, but not really caring if she did it
Then, one day, she noticed something different about the gardens. They were
coming to life sooner than they had in the past. She went out and walked
all around and through the beds. It was daffodils. Hundreds and hundreds
and hundreds of daffodils. She and Bill had never put many spring plants in
their gardens. They so enjoyed the colors of summer that they had only a
few spring daffodils and hyacinths scattered here and there.
Where did they come from? she wondered as she walked. Not only did the
blooms completely encircle each bed, they were also scattered inside, among
the still-dormant summer plants. They appeared in groups all over the lawn,
and even lined the driveway to the street. They ringed the trees and they
lined the foundation of the house. She couldn't believe it. Where on earth
had they come from?
A few days later she received a call from her attorney. He needed to see
her, he said. Could she come to his office that morning? When Constance
arrived, he handed her a package with instructions not to open it until she
returned home. He gave no other explanation.
When she opened the package, there were two smaller packages inside. One
was labeled "Open me first." Inside was a video cassette. Suddenly Bill
appeared on the screen, talking to her from his favorite chair, dressed not
in pajamas but in a sweater and slacks. "My darling Constance," he began,
"today is our anniversary, and this is my gift to you."
He told her of his love for her. Then he explained the daffodils.
"I know these daffodils will be blooming on our anniversary, and will
continue to do so forever," Bill said. "I couldn't plant them alone,
though." Their many friends had conspired with Bill to get the bulbs
planted. They had taken turns last fall getting Constance out of the house
for hours at a time so the work could be done.
The second package held the memories of all those friends who so generously
gave of their time and energies so Bill could give her his final gift.
Photographs of everyone came spilling out, images captured forever of them
working in the garden, laughing, taking turns snapping pictures and
visiting with her beloved husband, who sat bundled in a lawn chair, watching.
In the photo Constance framed and put by her bed, Bill is smiling at her
and waving his trowel.
Nicolle Woodward © 2000, from
Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul
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