He takes the flowers to a makeshift memorial with 22 white wooden crosses, one for each of the victims of the mass shooting at a nearby Walmart on Aug. 3. The cross for Margie Reckard, his wife, is on the end, steps away from the Walmart sign.
After unwrapping the bouquets, he carefully clips the stem of each flower, hundreds of them in all, and places them one by one on his wife’s display. Then he pours water and sprinkles floral food to keep them alive as long as he can.
This is Basco’s solemn ritual, born of grief and unmooring: tending Margie’s garden.
“She loved any kind of flowers. I could walk down the street and find flowers that had been run over a thousand times and she would think it looked like a million dollars,” he said on Friday morning, in little more than a whisper. “I keep doing this because I want to keep her memory alive.”
Every day, the memorial draws mourners who leave flowers, candles and stuffed animals, or read the notes and cards to each victim — the routines of nearly every community after a mass shooting. The memorial, stretching along a barrier at the edge of the Walmart property, is both a place of overwhelming sorrow and healing.
Basco said that when he wants to feel closest to his wife, he sometimes returns to the memorial at night and sleeps next to the cross, hardly visible among the piles of flowers and mementos. Other times, he leans in and talks to Margie. Visitors quietly back away, giving him privacy so he can garden in peace.
When he is done, strangers line up to give Basco a tearful hug, sometimes take a photo and express their condolences.
Some may know him as the man who invited everybody to his wife’s visitation and prayer service on Friday evening, worried that he would have to bury his partner of 22 years alone. Reckard has children, but he has no direct relatives.
When Perches Funeral Homes, which was already handling Reckard’s arrangements, learned of Basco’s intentions, it extended an open invitation to the service on its Facebook page.
The response was unimaginable. The funeral home received about 10,000 messages and tributes, and more than 900 floral arrangements from strangers as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
On Friday evening, hundreds of people of all races filled the La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center for the service, with a line of hundreds more stretching outside for blocks. The funeral home staff had been forced to relocate the event there after the overwhelming public response.
Victor and Mary Perales, of El Paso, said they had come to support Basco because they knew something about sudden loss: Their oldest son died unexpectedly two years ago. Victor Perales wrote a letter to give to Basco offering his condolences, but also offering friendship.
“We know how hard it was for us and we were surrounded by family. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go through this alone,” said Victor Perales, 72, a retired truck driver. “I said we are going to this funeral to give him a hug and let him know we can be his family.”
Bishop Harrison Johnson, a Perches funeral director, was to deliver the eulogy. “My message is faith gets us through anything. What do we do when loved ones die like this, violently? This is the time when people question God’s existence,” said Johnson, who leads an El Paso church. “My answer is we turn to Christ.”
Johnson said one of the hardest things for him about the funeral was not managing the overwhelming public response or choosing the right words to celebrate someone he had never known, but telling Basco he should have a closed-casket service.
Basco and Reckard met more than two decades ago at a bar in Nebraska. He was immediately smitten.
“I took one look at her eyes and it was over with,” Basco said, tears welling.
They settled in El Paso about nine years ago, although their hobby was visiting places by train. Reckard, who was a grocery store cashier in Nebraska, had several health issues, including Parkinson’s disease. Basco worked at a rodeo at one point but now runs a carwash business. He was outside fixing his truck when Reckard left for Walmart that Saturday morning.
“She was a lady,” he said, “and she was the love of my life.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.