After twenty-six years in their four-level home that was located just a block away from mine, my parents moved last July to a single-level townhome just a few miles away. We had barely got them settled in when Dad broke his hip in September. By December, following several additional illnesses and complications, Dad was gone from us, and the long winter had arrived.
Understandably, through grief and figuring out a new “us,” there hasn’t been much attention given to making the new place feel like “home.” And as much as the decision to move to from their previous home was Mom’s, she still often says that the townhome still doesn’t feel like home. Too much has changed too quickly. Too much sadness is still fresh in her mind and heart. But we’re going to continue trying to make Mom’s new house a home, as much as is humanly possible.
In the months since Dad’s passing, I’m spending more time than ever with Mom, in part, to make sure she’s not alone for too many hours, and also to help with things she can’t manage by herself. We’ve settled into a routine. Almost daily, I stop by Mom’s after work and on weekends. I often take her to my house to have dinner. Since she isn’t able to get out much on her own, this gives her a needed change of scenery. Sometimes I prepare a meal at her place or we get something to go. It’s mutually beneficial. I know she’s eating a hot meal on a regular basis, and it’s forcing me to cook more regularly, something that had fallen to the wayside especially since our kids have grown up and begun lives of their own.
As a result of so much time together, I’m often noticing and managing things that need doing around Mom’s place. We talk a lot about the projects she wishes to have done to make the townhome feel more homey. The vaulted ceiling and tall white walls are screaming for a splash of colorful decor. She’d like a big clock to hang over the fireplace. There are still boxes upon boxes of framed pictures that haven’t found a home yet. (And with fewer walls than in the old place, many never will.)
The back yard needed work. Generally speaking, it’s a lovely little place where Mom now lives, and her next door neighbor has a gorgeous perennial garden in plain view. But Mom’s back patio needed some attention. The former owner had moved to a nursing home, and the townhome stood vacant for more than a year before my parents took ownership. The landscaping in back had fallen into disrepair. Being so limited in her ability to go anywhere on her own, the backyard is the one outdoor space Mom is really able to enjoy without assistance from someone else.
The back yard is just beyond her sun porch and is where Mom lets her dog hang out at various times throughout the day. A black plastic landscaping border along the cement patio had long since been pulled away. The rocks that had once been enclosed there were now spilling into a patch of dirt and weeds where once there was probably lush, green grass.
“I’d like to have something done with that,” she’s said to me on more than one occasion. I had an idea. We discussed it and I asked if she thought she’d like it.
“If you like it, I’ll like it,” Mom said, giving me the freedom to do as I pleased. So as Mothers Day weekend approached, I enlisted my husband’s help in gathering the necessary supplies. On Friday evening, Jack and I made a trip to the local home improvement store and with his expertise, purchased just the right number of landscaping bricks as well as a roll of weed block. Back at home, we loaded shovels and rakes and a Sawzall into the back of my vehicle.
Saturday morning arrived, warm, sunny and beautiful. Jack went off to work for the day, and I dressed in an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt before making the short trek to Mom’s house. I sat with Mom as the morning sun rose high in the sky and she sipped her morning coffee. Soon my sister arrived, ready to help transform the back yard.
Some of the elderly neighbors were already outside as we began to work. As is their habit, they sat in lawn chairs in front of their own townhomes, watching as I traveled along the side of Mom’s house, from the driveway out front and along to the back, my arms loaded with supplies and tools. My sis and I shoveled what remained of the old rock from our work space. The roots of two large pine trees had crept into the area, and I used the Sawzall to cut the ones that were nestled on the surface of the yard. We dug, we raked, we pruned, and we smoothed the dirt, making the ground level enough for our project.
The mostly-before view
Next, we figured out a pattern for the landscaping blocks and began to lay them out.
Once the pattern looked right, we used a level and made adjustments to ensure the new area was as perfect as possible. Then it was off to another home improvement store to purchase more rock. Shopping amongst a sea of others, my sister and I heaved ten bags of rock onto a dolly at the garden center, then once paid for, heaved them off the dolly and into my sister’s vehicle. Then back at Mom’s house, we hauled the heavy bags from the car to the yard, and then put our muscles to the test once more as we cut the bags open and dumped rocks into the new space. (Who needs the gym?)
Five hours after we’d begun, the space had really begun to take shape. We were tired, sweaty, dirty and smelly and we called it a day. After dinner, with Jack now home from work, I enlisted his help again to purchase and transport a few rolls of sod.
The next day, I requested middle-son Ryker’s help.
“Isn’t it Mothers Day?” he asked, wondering why I was proposing to do manual labor on this day.
“Yep,” I replied.
“Did we get you anything,” he asked sheepishly, clearly assuming his sister would have and should have organized some sort of gift for me.
“Not yet,” I smiled, making it clear that his help was all the gift I needed.
Back at Mom’s house, Ryker tilled the areas of dirt and dead grass, then we worked together in rolling out, cutting and fitting the sod into place. Finally, we mixed some grass seed and soil and spread it around the edges of the sod and into a few remaining small bare areas.
We stood back and surveyed our work, and we were pretty pleased! We had bought Mom a new outdoor rocker for Mothers Day, so she can sit outside with her dog and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine now and then. A few pots of flowers will come soon to give the space some color. She is ecstatic!
I totally enjoyed the process of planning and creating this little bit of landscaping. And as I think about the work my own yard needs, my mind is now filled with possibilities!