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The Abbey of Katherine Joy Aby

Katherine Aby

“I garden not only for myself, but also for my neighbors and walkers so they can have something pleasant to look at; and I like to think that my garden is a reflection of who I am and the things I love.” Katherine Joy Aby

My friend Katherine once asked me if I would ever write a story about her. I’d mentioned her a couple of times in essays that were in general about other things, like miracles and love. She was referenced without being named, but she recognized herself in those passages, like this one from an essay about everyday divinity;

…or in the face of my neighbor, who comes to my home to knock on my door, to take my face in her hands (still dirty from her abruptly abandoned gardening) to kiss my forehead and tell me she loves me before turning and heading back home to continue her planting.”

She sent me a note once about a story I wrote saying simply, “I get a tremendous sense of respect for people in your work. I sense your honor for people in their distinct place. I always feel tender after reading your work. I savor it. Keep it up.” XOXOXOXOXOXO Katherine Aby

Today I hope I can honor my dear friend, for all of us who loved her and lost her suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack. I feel so startled by the loss of this tiny woman that took up so much space in this world, in my life and in my heart. A heart so broken as I write these words.

Yogi Katherine

Yogi Katherine

Katherine was a gardener. But truly she was an artist whose medium was plants and blooms and earth and sky. Before I knew her, I used to walk around the block and watch the progression of the landscaping of her property. First, a high berm was built up around the large side yard, then it was filled with tall trees and shrubbery and finally the entire lot was surrounded by a beautiful low iron fence, complete with blunted spikes. I used to joke with my husband that I wouldn’t be surprised if a moat would be going in soon; fully stocked with alligators!

Occasionally I would get a glimpse of her working inside her fortified yard, a small woman ten years my senior, but with ten times my strength and drive. I can’t even recall how or when we first became friends, but I remember I was smitten after a few brief conversations. Her straightforward and unsparing way of speaking and her curmudgeonly manner were exactly the qualities that drew me to her. Once, when my youngest child Harper was just a preschooler, Katherine gave us a tour of her yard. As we passed her raspberry bushes, Harper plucked a berry and Katherine looked straight at her and said in a level and serious tone, ‘Don’t you eat my raspberries.’ Harper looked her in the eye and popped the berry into her mouth, to which Katherine declared, ‘You little criminal!’ Her words could be sharp but her eyes always betrayed her. They smiled with mischief.

The gardener is full of patience for nature to do most of the work. Kuitert

The gardener is full of patience for nature to do most of the work. Kuitert

She was guarded with her heart though, and it was a delicate and volatile journey to be invited in. But just like her cloistered garden, once you were allowed past the iron gates, there was such beauty and tenderness there, with treasures she’d hidden everywhere in plain sight. She once told me as I admired one such detail in her garden; a small plant hidden in the curve of a large boulder, ‘You notice every little thing I place here. You really do see.’ It was high praise, and I savored it because she could just as abruptly dismiss you and usher you unceremoniously out of her space or her favor. It was a friendship that required patience. Patience that was always rewarded.

Often, just to tease her, I would tempt her ire and swing open the gates to her garden inward any time I passed her yard on my walks, leaving them like that as I went on my way. If she caught me, she’d hang out her front door and scold me, and I’d always say, “Oh Katherine, I’m just letting the love flow in!” She’d shake her head, clearly annoyed, but she couldn’t keep a smile from her lips. Other days, after visiting her I’d have such a full heart that I’d leave the gates of her garden opening outward behind me as I left. She’d furrow her brow at me and I’d explain, “But Katherine, I’m just letting all your love flow out into the world.” 

Everything Katherine gave to others came from a place of deep love. And because of Katherine, my garden grows greener and blooms brighter. My heart does too. We all miss you so. Safe journey and Godspeed to the gates of heaven, gates that will surely swing open as you enter, to let the love in.

(Katherine’s garden was featured in a magazine and can be seen here.)

Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 8.13.59 PM

“The point of it is to have a good journey, a good experience as you walk through. It’s not flat. It goes up and down. I love the down dip and the coming back up; to me, it’s a lot like life.” Katherine Joy Aby

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am so very sorry you lost your friend, Lori.

    March 27, 2015
  2. I am here, on a Friday night, sobbing. To have lived such a life, so fierce and so tender! May we all have the fortune of this blessing.

    My friend, you really DO see. Everyone who knows you, truly knows you, knows that about you. The tiny plant, the word, placed just so, the very breath and life of so many things …you see them. Because of this, you saw Katherine for who she was, and she loved you for that.

    Through your words, Katherine’s love flows out, flows in, flows out, flows in, flows out …

    March 27, 2015
    • And Katherine Joy Aby gave me the gift of being deeply seen, and the privilege and gift of her friendship. I miss her so. Thank you for your gentle words Leigh.

      March 29, 2015
  3. Michelle #

    So beautiful… I didn’t know her but feel your loss…so so sorry.

    March 27, 2015
  4. Such tender words, I too am so sorry for your loss.

    March 27, 2015
  5. Lori – this is so SPOT ON! Thank you so much for your words. I’m really going to miss her.

    March 27, 2015
  6. So beautiful..everything about this is beautiful.

    March 27, 2015
  7. Marie LaForce #

    I’m sorry for your loss, Lori Anne. And for the record, I completely understand about the raspberries. 🙂


    March 27, 2015
    • I can practically hear Katherine laughing at your comment Marie! She would have loved it.

      March 27, 2015
  8. Beautiful, Lori. I was sad all day and kept thinking about how she would hate to miss spring in her garden. We’ll have to keep an eye on the new sprouts and blooms popping out on her corner and be grateful that she was part of our lives. So glad I gave her a big hug last time I saw her.

    March 27, 2015
    • My bruised heart cannot yet pass her house. Tears well up at the thought of it. I am so glad you hugged her too. I can feel the love in that moment even now.

      March 29, 2015
  9. Ellie #

    What a beautiful testimonial to a truly great lady. She will be missed.

    March 28, 2015
  10. Charlotte Bussey #

    My daughter Robin spoke of the loss her very special friend today!! I didn’t know her but I know that is leaving a huge void in the lives she touched! May God give you comfort in this time & remind you how short our lives can be , love those all you can in whateverway you can because it may be your last chance on the living side!

    March 28, 2015
  11. Ann Hoffman #

    Lori, thank you for sharing your lovely words about Katherine. I know she’s smiling and laughing in heaven at your wonderful sentiments. You captured her perfectly – her tenderness, smart, prickly and creative personality. We will all miss her incredible spirit. Her death has also reminded me to tell the people around me how much I love them. We’re here on earth for such a short time and it’s important to care for and love each other. In an instant it can all change. I feel very blessed to live in a neighborhood like ours. Take care, Ann

    March 29, 2015
  12. Debbie #

    It sounds like Katherine was a blessing to all who took the time to get to know her and become welcomed in. She had a good journey indeed. My sincere condolences for her untimely passing ❤

    March 29, 2015
  13. Ebin in Jerusalem #

    What a beautiful tribute to the woman we knew as Auntie Katherine. Thank you so much for honoring her memory by sharing this. We will miss our dear Katherine so, but the kindness, love, and faith with which she left us will remain. We love you Auntie Katherine.

    March 30, 2015

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