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  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

Let Me Die in My Garden: On Life, Death and Living

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“They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” –Isaiah 65:21

Gardening is one of the best hobbies. Even if you have room for only a few containers… plant something. If you don’t have a yard, use a balcony—but plant something. If you don’t have a balcony, use a table and a windowsill - but still: plant something.

You can plant a few herbs, and maybe a small lavender plant. There are tabletop gardens that are trouble-free and soil-free… they are called aquaculture and the plants do very well. Or just cover the table with a waterproof cover, get a few small clay pots and find a sunny window.

Marigolds are very reliable germinators and almost always grow. Each bud then provides dozens of new seeds for the next round.

In the garden, you observe the cycle of life up close: you participate in conception, birth, growth, death—and rebirth. If you let your mind wander (a thing I have never had any trouble doing), all sorts of connections and resonances occur to you.

Truly, God “brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and brings to life the earth after its lifelessness.” (Quran 30:19)

My late husband had three large New Jersey gardens. The last one he had, from 2022, was the epitome of “one sows, another reaps.” That is exactly what happened with his last garden: he ploughed, planted, and watered it.

After he died suddenly in June 2022, it was the neighbors and I who reaped the fruits of his labors. This year, with the assistance of a helper, Terry’s Garden is again in bloom and has started to bear. I am keeping one-fourth of the produce and giving away the other three-fourths to neighbors. One sows, and another reaps.

Life speeds by so very quickly. I always heard older people say that, but losing my husband so unexpectedly drove the point home fiercely and profoundly. Losing him was one reason I wanted to replant the garden he had established, in a way to “bring the living out of the dead.”

My grandfather had a huge garden that provided food for the family and many hours of peaceful, meditative exercise for him. Once I began gardening myself, I realized why my grandfather kept at it for so long. There is a deep satisfaction in growing your own food, and short of a serious and wholly incapacitating physical disability, there isn’t really a certain time when gardening must stop.

At one point, Grandpa got too old to drive, or so his family decided. They took his car keys and car and told him they’d drive him where he needed to go.

But that wasn’t enough. A bit later, worried for his health, they took away his gardening tools: his hoe, his rakes, his shovel, his clippers. All the hand tools he’d used for years to work his magnificent garden were taken away from him by people who thought they were doing the right thing. I think they were afraid he’d have a stroke in the heat. Grandpa went back inside the house, broken-hearted and sad. He loved his garden, but his family would not let him continue.

Grandpa eventually did have a stroke. He spent the last years of his life in a hospital bed in the living room, unable to get up, walk or speak. But he did survive for a while. I heard about this only later, because this happened while I was living overseas. Had I been here, I would have driven him to the hardware store myself, bought him all new tools and a new lock for his shed—that only he and I would have the key to—to store them. They did him no favors by interfering.

Sometimes, old or not, people really do know what is best for themselves.

Now, many years later, I am approaching the age that my grandpa was when he still gardened. I dread the idea of losing my autonomy, my independence, my freedom. Life has a way of catching up with everyone sooner or later.

We owe it to ourselves to enjoy what time we have. As long as nobody is harmed, let us skydive. Roller skate. Write a book. Have a “friend.” Travel to Europe or the Sahara or wherever. Ride an elephant in Thailand. And let us have our gardens.

My husband checked out like a ninja: silent and speedy like a rolling fog. That lucky son of a gun died very peacefully, painlessly and quickly, in his own home on his own familiar sofa, doing things he loved and was accustomed to: watching TV and chatting in an internet chatroom.

We had one last conversation before he went downstairs to the TV room. And that was that. He was spared years and decades of pain and discomfort.

I will leave word with my loved ones—and this column can serve as a sort of living will, witnessed by all my readers — when it’s time, please: let me die in my garden.

Let me lie on the lavender and rosemary, amid the tomatoes, the flowers, the corn. If I can recover, then try, but if I can’t, don’t keep me alive knowing I can’t get any better.

Let me die in my garden. And while I’m living, let me love whom I love, and let me have the strength to do some good for some people along the way.

That’s the only thing that makes life worth living at any age.

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002.


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