When you look out on your lawn, or perhaps your neighbor’s lawn, and see dandelions, your response is probably the same as my husband’s. “Weeds.” He goes after them with chemicals, and when that doesn’t work, he digs them up with a screwdriver, muttering the entire time. In those moments, he likely doesn’t remember how he viewed them in childhood.
Back then they were pretty yellow flowers. If he was like me, he went out to gather them up in his grubby little fist and presented them, slightly wilted, to his mother, who admired them, then put them in a jelly jar on the windowsill until he went to bed. And when they went to seed in the yard, does he also remember how he would pick them carefully, hold them up to the sky, make a wish and blow? He wasn’t scattering weed seeds back then; he was sending his fondest hopes up to heaven.
When our children were little, we called these weeds “wishing stars.” Cliff took the whole family on adventures to find them, and when we ran across a perfect one it was cause for celebration. I’d like to think that the wishes our kids made on those feathery plants all came true. But even when they didn’t, those excursions provided important lessons on life. Sometimes wishing and dreaming aren’t as important as the journeys we take.
That’s true of life, and it’s certainly true as we approach the end of life. I once had a neighbor who I didn’t meet until he was elderly. We became good friends. Our families camped in the Idaho Sawtooths together and he taught me some great tricks for getting out of trouble. For instance, conventional wisdom says if you’re lost in the wilderness, find a stream and follow it. He told me that works in theory because streams flow downhill. So, he reasoned, don’t waste your time and energy looking for the water. Just head downhill and eventually you’ll find the stream, and the way out.
Bill was an interesting guy. As a baby during the Depression his family could no longer afford to care for him, so he ended up on an orphan train headed west. He was one of the lucky kids, because the people who adopted him treated him like one of their own. That he was well loved was clear, because he knew how to give that love back. What he inherited from his birth parents, though, was heart disease, so the potential for death was always there through much of his adult life. His wife, Laura, took excellent care of him, keeping a close eye on what he ate and how much rest he got. When the end finally came, he approached it peacefully but reluctantly because he didn’t want to leave her in grief and sadness. It was her loving gesture that paved the way for him. As he lay there, suspended between this world and the next, she took his hand and whispered in his ear that it was okay, he should go toward the light. Peace settled over his face and he breathed his last. It was an unselfish gesture, because she thought she’d be bereft without him.
He comes to mind now, because I once saw him reach out and pluck a dandelion that had gone to seed, then hand it to Laura, who closed her eyes, made a wish and blew. All of the wishes in the world couldn’t bring him back to her after he died, but for the rest of her life, every time she saw a wishing star I know it brought a smile to her face, and the feel of his enveloping love. So much value in one little weed.
Monica Hannan is an Emmy-Award-winning television news manager, anchor, and talk show host at KFYR-TV in Bismarck, ND. Her latest book, “Gift of Death- A Message of Comfort and Hope,” tells of her father’s journey toward death, interlaced with personal, uplifting and amazing stories of people’s final moments on earth.