17: Cornell Sunflower

17: Cornell Sunflower

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Cornell Sunflower

Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.

~Kahlil Gibran

It was December 2002 when we held the memorial service for my beloved dad, Clarence Edward Gammon. A large display of sunflowers graced the pulpit in memory of the sunshine he brought into our lives and in commemoration of the gorgeous sunflowers he grew each year. They were the talk of the neighbourhood at their towering height as they kissed the eaves of our family home.

Each year since 2002, the seeds from these precious flowers have been replanted at my home in Cornell, in loving memory of my dad and respect for the care he showed these flowers. It was in 2006, as I began the process of seeding for the new season, that the wondrous story of these flowers came to a new height.

I entered the garage to retrieve the seeds that had been harvested the last fall, as I had done each year previously. It didn’t register immediately as I viewed the tray of open shells but I soon realized that the seeds had been eaten by a hungry critter that took up winter residence in our garage. A terrible wave of dread and loss washed over me, as if I had lost my dad all over again.

My husband saw me crying through the kitchen window, opened the door and asked what the problem was. I explained what had happened. He looked at me with sympathy and stated, “It only takes one.” I understood. For two hours I sifted through the shells and found a total of twelve remaining seeds. These seeds were planted in small pots and grew to seedlings in our kitchen window.

We returned from a weekend away to find that our cat had eaten the head off every flower! I could not believe these flowers were in jeopardy again. Once again, I cried—this time out of frustration and disbelief. And once again my husband said, “Don’t give up... it only takes one.” And one it was.

One seedling survived and was planted in our backyard garden. Over the next several weeks I watched it grow and gain strength until it was two feet tall. As I was weeding around the stalk, I could not believe what happened next—I heard a “snap,” and sure enough, I had gotten too close and snapped the stem of the flower. This time there were no tears. I knew I was being sent some kind of message that I did not yet understand.

I could not bring myself to dig up the dying stalk, so it remained there for weeks. One day, while weeding, something caught my eye. The sunflower stalk had come back to life—from its down-sloped position it had reached up for the sky and was beginning to blossom. It was a miracle. This time the tears were for the message received instead of what had previously been lost. It only takes one to make a difference—one person or one sunflower.

No matter how beaten up, this flower had a purpose and was going to fulfill it—regardless of mice, cats or careless gardeners. Throughout the summer this one stalk grew to over six feet, formed more than six flowers and provided several hundred seeds for harvest.

I share these seeds as I share my story of loss and finally the greatest gift of all—the gift of hope and resilience and the knowledge that all living things are miraculous in their existence and perseverance.

We should all be as hopeful as this Cornell sunflower.

~Sheri Gammon Dewling

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