ST JOSEPH, Minn. — When life lays heavy upon one's shoulders, there's something about the morning.
“Things that you worry about all day — the day before or something — in the morning, they seem a lot smaller,” Liz Fiedler says as she snips stems in her flower garden with the sun cresting the horizon behind her.
The past two years, Liz has experienced both the weight of loss and the light that makes it bearable.
“Josh was, I always say, he was the how to my wow,” Liz says.
Liz's husband Josh welcomed her to the farm near St. Joseph on which Josh had grown up milking cows, the fifth generation of his family to do so.
“The summer he was 36, we bought it and moved out here,” Liz says.
As Josh grew his career in ag lending, Liz earned her doctorate as a nurse practitioner.
Joined by their new daughter, Vidalia, the couple envisioned a hobby farm selling flowers and canned goods — a place of their own, they named Sunny Mary Meadow, after Josh's late mother.
Two years ago, Liz had finished her first season in their first flower garden when their well-laid plans were uprooted.
Liz was at work, her husband home alone, when Josh collapsed while running on a treadmill.
He was 39 years old.
“Sudden cardiac arrest,” Liz says. “We were married for six-and-a-half years when he passed away.”
Fit, and in seemingly in perfect health, Josh had breezed through a physical the day before he died.
One day after Josh’s funeral, Liz learned she was pregnant with their second child.
Her mother suggested that continuing the flower business might be too much.
“And I just remember looking at her, and I was like, ‘Don't take away one of the things that still makes me happy,’” Liz says.
Let's just say, two summers later, good things are growing.
“So, this is Davie,” Liz says, introducing the 1-year-old daughter in her arms.
Davie’s 4-year-old sister pokes her head around her mother’s left leg.
“And this is Vidalia,” Liz says.
Count Vidalia and Davie among the reminders of Josh sprinkled around the farm.
The windchimes near the barn, with Josh’s name, inscribed on a metal plate, dancing beneath.
The last of the salsa Josh canned on a shelf in the shop.
And his college flag on a pole in the front yard.
“He loved St. John's University,” Liz says. “He was the Johnniest of Johnnies.”
But approaching two years since Josh's death, there are also signs that Liz, at 33, is making the old dairy farm her own.
Bright, floral, murals decorate white farm sheds, including a new painting in the works by local artist Lindsay Herdering.
“These murals reflect her personality. She's colorful and vibrant,” Lindsay says as she paints a Sunny Mary Meadow welcome on a bright yellow background.
The new farmhouse Liz and Josh had started planning together is now under construction.
One cut flower garden has grown to three.
Evenings, Liz teaches classes in flower arrangement.
She's written a children's book about grief titled, "When Flowers Bloom."
And all summer long, customers arrive to pick up the hundreds of bouquets she assembles in the farm's old butcher shop.
“You have a choice, and move forward is kind of what I've chosen,” Liz says.
Back in the garden, Liz offers her daughters beginning lessons in floriculture.
“It's called snow on the mountain,” Liz says, pointing to some white-tipped leaves.
Struck by the plant’s name, Vidalia giggles.
“I know, isn't that silly?” Liz says, cradling Davie in her right arm.
“They’re the sixth generation,” Liz says proudly.
She believes Josh would be proud too.
“This is what he wanted for us; I know it is,” Liz says.
One day, she wants Vidalia and Davie to have the opportunity raise their families on the 134-year-old farm too.
“I'm just the keeper of the flame for now – want to keep it burning,” Liz says.
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