From black thumb to green thumb
A caregiver’s thank you to the chaplain who wouldn’t leave me alone
I scowled at the green nuisance sitting on the rolling table, wondering why in the world the chaplain brought this plant over. My grandfather had just turned 95 years old. He was a trained mechanic, a master chef, a veteran and had previously been married for 49 years.
He built his home from the ground up and rarely if ever hired anyone to fix anything, from plumbing to roof repairs. I respected this Renaissance man for everything, minus his fascination with plants.
My mother and he shared this love of talking to their plants. My grandfather had a fruit and vegetable garden. Although he has photographs of a kindergarten-sized me planting an apple tree, there are more photos of me just running and jumping in the yard trying to flee.
My mother had plants in our living room that were big enough to touch the ceiling. And they loved the hell out of these green creatures.
I, on the other hand, had a black thumb and absolutely no interest in owning one plant. I successfully killed a plant I was left to care for, during one year as a receptionist. The idea of watering, feeding and talking to these things was for weirdos.
How I got stuck with a new plant
My grandfather had been hospitalized for three weeks. So how was he going to take care of this plant that the chaplain brought over? An aunt (his oldest daughter), my parents and I took scheduled rotations to be caregivers for him. He’d been in the hospital twice already.
I didn’t mind the caregiving, considering I’d already made an enemy out of three nurses in the hospitals and short-term facilities. They just weren’t caring for him the way I needed them to. But I huffed about that damn plant every single time I saw it.
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The chaplain just wouldn’t hang out with my grandfather and then leave. The nurses would chat for a few minutes but were busy bathing him and confirming his medication. However, this chaplain just had too much free time. Instead of talking to my grandfather, he wanted to talk my ear off. He asked me offensive things like, “How are you?” The nerve. I am not the one who was hospitalized. Go talk to my grandfather. I’m just the caregiver, so don’t worry about my feelings.
He asked me offensive things like, “How are you?” The nerve.
While I was trying to figure out how to get an Internet connection, answer concerned calls from my grandfather’s friends, respond to emails from my nerve-racking boss and the rest of my work team, and make sure my grandfather was comfortable and clean in his home-care bed, this chaplain followed me around wanting to talk. I wanted him to go home. Stop asking me about my mental state. Stop asking me what it’s like to work from home. Stop asking me these things. Just let them stay in my head.
My grandfather passed away in July, a month after the plant arrived. I took a couple of things that he’d already written down for me to take (he didn’t have a will): “The Golden Girls” and “All in the Family” DVD sets, his TV and TV stand, and this painting of a black girl with wild hair.
But before I walked out the door with the moving van to deliver these things to my home, I scowled at that plant again. And I took it. I felt responsible for keeping that plant alive in honor of my grandfather.
I’d had a black thumb my entire life, but that plant lasted two years and grew so fast and furious that it started to hang off of my coffee table. The only reason I don’t have it now is that I bought a condo a year later in a far less humid building. The plant went into shock and died. I tried hard to save it. But I was relieved. No more plants. No more watering, feeding and talking to these plants like my strange mother and grandfather.
Oddly, I realized I missed taking care of the chaplain’s plant. It felt like a living piece of my grandfather, even if he never got to care it. So I bought four water orchids for my office desk and home. Almost two months later, the ice cubes stopped working and the orchids died. (They were never meant to last longer than that.)
The massive TV, the paintings and singing the opening to “The Golden Girls” were all appreciated, but there was something about having a plant. I wanted a new one. In January (five months after the chaplain’s plant died), I got arrogant and bought four plants. And every day I check on them and feed/water them as needed. Even while dogsitting, I still go home to make sure they get proper light and open the blinds.
The chaplain may have been meddlesome, but he certainly helped me learn two things. Caregivers should be asked how they’re doing even when they’d rather focus on everyone but themselves. And apparently, chaplains can bring out talents in you that you didn’t know you had: green thumbs.