Editorial: The words we leave behind

By Jenn Watt

“This doesn’t seem like it would be Dad’s username but doesn’t it seem like a coincidence?” I texted my sister. I had stumbled across a post from more than a decade ago on a gardening forum that sounded so much like my dad who died in May.

I sent her a screenshot my heart was racing. Was it too much to hope for?

The night before I had been complaining to her on the phone about problems with some of the plants in my flower garden. Normally I would ask my father a horticulturist what could be causing the problem and he would offer his expertise.

“I don’t want to figure this out” I said to her that night. “I just want to ask Dad.”

But one of the most painful things when someone you love dies is that you can’t ask those little questions. They’re no longer just a phone call away.

The next afternoon I decided to go it on my own and see if Google could help me with my mystery. About five online advice websites popped up in the search and then a garden forum caught my eye. Someone had asked the very question I had: what was eating her plants?

Perfect. I scrolled down to the answers. The first person to respond shared the same name as my father.

The phrasing sounded so much like Dad and it seemed like something he would do to go online and engage with an online gardening community. But what are the chances that the very issue I needed him for was the one he would answer?

My sister suggested I look through the user profile to see whether other posts sounded like my dad. They did. And then I found one that included photos asking for help identifying a plant. The plant looked familiar and so did the room. My sister confirmed it: this was our childhood living room and our plant. These messages were from our dad.

I’ve since scoured the site for more of his posts and it turns out my father answered a lot of people’s gardening questions over the years – everything from dealing with pests to identifying weeds to asking his own questions about new houseplants.

Beyond what this experience means to me personally it’s also a reminder of how long even seemingly insignificant actions can reverberate in the world.

When my dad answered a stranger’s gardening question 13 years ago he never could have guessed that one day his words would bring such comfort to his grieving daughter’s heart. In the same way that none of us can imagine how the posts we make notes we write or things we do will continue to affect others for years to come.

By the way my dad’s advice on what to do about a mystery bug nibbling at my garden? If it’s not defoliating the plant let it have its lunch and enjoy the view.