The Hospice Garden

I was inspired to write this after spending a a study day at the wonderful Florence Nightingale Hospice in Stoke Mandeville. *Magdalena and Duke are fictional.

The courtyard garden, centre stage to a surround of tinted windows and sliding doors, each one reflecting the colours of the garden.

Behind every window is a life story. A choice? an injustice? a burden? an overwhelming sadness. A potential last breath, a life reborn, a new start, a life changing end.

Ghostly Pampas grass sways in the wind next to the dancing daffodils. Their golden trumpets surrounded by sunshine petals, always in a clustered family, never alone.

I hope that no one behind the window is alone. That their wishes have been considered and granted. That each room is filled with love, despite the sadness within those rooms.

Ivy creeps across the bricked walls. Slowly taking over and making its presence known, each leaf using its glue like rootlets to hang on for dear life, to conquer each brick and continue the everlasting chain of evergreen leaves flecked in silver.

It makes me think of the potential fight and the strength behind each of the windows. Some clinging on for their own lives, wishing they had the strength and endurance of the ivy leaves, some overpowered with disease stronger than the ivy leaves, having the same effect creeping and gluing through their fragile frames.

Four wooden birdhouses stand proud at each corner of the square garden, filled with nourishment, a welcoming stop for feathered beauties to fuel in shelter from the elements, amongst friends.

I wonder if the birds know what goes on in this garden, I wonder if they know what happens behind each window and I wonder if they know how much joy they bring to some of the people behind the windows who see them through their pain and smile at the beauty of their feathers and their song.

I wonder if they know that some of the people behind those windows believe that they will too, soon fly.

To heaven.

Sunshine casts shadows through the lattice of the wedgewood blue painted Gazebo, a lonely bench laid bare but one that has hosted many a moment shared between father and child, grandma and grandchild, brother and sister. Sometimes a moment of solace, to feel the warmth and shine of sun on a face, fresh air causing a tint of rose to creep across a cheek and the sudden ability to see a sky bluer than you have ever seen it before.

Somehow in the shelter of the gazebo those moments that will sometimes be a persons last connection with the beauty of our world are protected.

The seasons change and the living inhabitants of the garden change. Flowers die, leaves turn brown, trees undress, the bright yellow strands of the dandelions turn into wispy dreamlike wishes, and some wildlife fairs the elements better than others. Warmth fuels new life, new colours, new smells and bares fresh fruit. It’s the same behind the windows. The clocks continue to tick, the beds change, the moments transform from happy to sad, despair to relief, pain to ease.

But there is consistency in the garden that regardless of its changes it remains the place that delivers joy through the windows, it offers green, and life and promise. It offers peace. It discriminates against no one. The most precious dusky pink roses stand side by side with nettles and creeping moss. They share this sacred space and they all contribute to its beauty and the perspective of life that it offers.

Magdalena arrives, her wild silvery curls frame her smiling face. Donning chintzy floral gardening gloves and a soft lilac knitted jumper, with one hand on her hip, she takes a moment to appreciate the garden and to prioritise her first job. Magdalena has volunteered at the garden for 5 years, she lost her husband Duke behind the windows. The garden is her connection to him. Sometimes she talks to him as she prunes, smells blooms and rips weed from the soil.

She wonders if the robin that always seems to perch on the closet bird house to her is Dukes way of letting her know he’s there too.

Magdalena knows the importance of the garden to those behind the windows, and I imagine she will be in that garden come rain or shine for as long as she can. Maintaining it for the most important spectators, keeping memories alive amongst the wildflowers, providing nurture, space and life to all that grows in the garden, just as she did in her last days with Duke, on the other side of the windows.

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