A debut memoir about death, grief, rebirth, and gardening.
Like the real world, the beginning of the book and Arbogast’s descriptions of her husband Jim’s impending death are tough going. As she reflects on their 27-year, on-again, off-again relationship, she paints a picture of two people who were unable to commit. When they married, they insisted that it “meant absolutely nothing.” Neither wanted a real relationship. The marriage was just for insurance purposes, and he didn’t want her to tell anyone about it. Though they married in early spring, Jim didn’t move into their house until winter. They had bought the house together a few years earlier, two acres out in the country with two big dogs. But Jim didn’t always share with her—not the information about his lymphoma or his skin cancer years earlier. He also waited months before telling her about his lung cancer, a result of his exposure to toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War. They went through lung surgery, brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and all the other possible treatments, but Jim eventually succumbed to the cancer. Arbogast’s story of rebuilding, or perhaps starting, a life has a persistent thread: her gardens. While dealing with her grief, she tore out gardens, added new ones, and changed entire landscapes, all the while thinking about moving to town. A few trips with and without the dogs, finding her roots, dating, and a new business dogged her search for a new direction in life. She was able to move on when she realized that her relationship was not necessarily as amazing as she once believed.
An average memoir that’s not really a guide to grief; it’s for anyone searching for what will make him or her happy—and more importantly, what will not.