I have a bottlebrush buckeye (a shrub) in my garden. I planted it several years ago; just two tiny twigs, probably about 8 inches tall. I wasn’t looking for this particular shrub for my garden when I brought it home, and I didn’t have a spot in mind for it either. I knew it would spread out, and I knew it preferred shade, so I stuck it in the “back woods” corner of my garden.
It didn’t do much for several years.
But. Look at it now! (Last year was the first year it bloomed.)
It seems quite happy!
It’s pretty spectacular, actually.
Yet, I have bittersweet feelings whenever I look at it.
My bottlebrush buckeye is a reminder of the final “garden adventure” I had with a special, long-time, gardening buddy. We each came home with small plantings of the shrub that day, inspired by one we saw in full bloom when we were visiting an out-of-town landscaping center near the lakeshore.
We used to do a lot of “garden adventures” together, my gardening buddy and I. Visiting special garden and landscape centers all over the state. Going on garden tours. Shopping the local cart sale. We were as familiar with each other’s gardens as we were with our own! We advised. We scouted. We shared. We bought plants for each other.
She was actually the first friend I made after chemo – the first person I knew who hadn’t known me "before." We met at a Master Gardener event. She was very much an extrovert, and just . . . walked up and said, “Hey! I like your sweatshirt. Tell me about your garden.” And just like 6-year-olds at the playground, we became fast friends.
I haven’t seen her since just before the pandemic. We aren’t really . . . friends anymore. We didn’t have a falling out. We didn’t decide . . . not to be friends anymore. But, still, I lost her friendship. To dementia.
It happened gradually. Her personality changed. Never intimidated (she was an ultra-extrovert), her dementia loosened her up even more. She lost all her social filters. She said mean, judge-y things. To me, about me . . . but mostly to people around us. She acted inappropriately, embarrassingly in public. She knew we were friends, but she couldn’t remember how we were friends. She was always surprised when she found out I gardened, that - like her - I was a gardener, too.
I wasn’t ready for this. I thought I was too young to lose friends to dementia! But . . . my gardening buddy was 12 years older than me. It happens.
Because of a number of . . . incidents . . . (and compounded by the pandemic) I decided it was in my best interest to step away from that friendship. I never imagined that I’d . . . lose a friend that way. I’m still trying to process it all; trying to forgive myself for walking away from a person I didn’t recognize anymore, from someone who no longer recognized ME.
So. My lovely bottlebrush buckeye? Anytime I look at it, I’m reminded of a beautiful gardening friendship full of fun memories. But it also . . . just makes me a little sad.
Sometimes tales from the garden . . . are bittersweet.
(And if you’ve had an experience like mine - losing a friend to dementia - I’d love to hear how you managed.)