I was in a rush today, as usual. I ran in McDade's grocery store to use the atm, because it's the closest one to the starbucks I give all my paycheck to. They have a floral section inside, where a florist was working. She had just put the finishing touches on an array of spring flowers--the yellow & white daisies most prominent in the bouquet caught my eye and made my heart long for spring breezes, the sun on my back, flowy dresses, fuzzy puppies, soft as angel hair baby bunnies; my mind became engrossed in the vision of the green buds of grass, tulips, gladiolus, amaryllis, all the beautiful colors and newness as the Earth awakens and is reborn; emerging so dazzling & breath taking as it rises from its long winters nap. I could almost smell the azaleas in my Grandmothers front yard as I gazed longingly at the flowers the florist had placed so carefully in the vase.
I must have looked a little lost, because I didn't even realize I had approached her counter. The florist touched the back of my hand gently and softly said, "Are you okay, sweetie? Can I help you find what you're looking for?" I nodded my head to clear out the mental fog, and replied, 'Yesmam. I want those flowers you just put together. I want to buy those flowers, right there, please?" With a tinge of despair in my voice, I'm assuming. She handed me a price sticker and gave me a knowing look, and her parting words to me were, "I hope these flowers bring you as much happiness as they brought me, I always hope my work goes to someone who will love the flowers like I do."
As I paid the cashier I reflected on what the florist had said. Where I was taking these flowers-- the person I was taking them to--would never caress their velvety petals, never marvel at their breathtaking colors, nor inhale deeply their intoxicating sweet smell....because where I am taking these flowers, the residents are at rest, and the flowers and mementos brought here are for the living. For us left behind to leave in memoriam, in honor, as a memento of the love we still feel and the loss we deal with every day. I bought the flowers because I wanted to share spring with Marriah, to leave them at her tombstone as a token that I realize this is my first spring of the rest of my life without her riding shotgun, peals of her infectious laughter filling my car as we travel the highways of the beautiful south.
I think it goes without saying that this pattern of thinking got me pretty down in the dumps. Moon knew something was up as soon as I walked in the door. "Mom, what's wrong? Who gave you flowers? What's going on?" As she tried to wrap her arms around me, and comfort me, pull me back from the place where my mind was dwelling.
I told her that we were going to go by the cemetery and leave the flowers at Marriah's grave, and just visit there for a little while. We loaded up in the car, solemn in our moods and steady at our task. We arrived at the graveside, picked up the leaves and stray plastic flowers around her tombstone, and set the vase in front of the headstone. But something didn't seem right. I got down on my knees and looked, and realized that a formal vase of flowers to celebrate spring would not be what Marriah would want.
I turned the vase over and pulled the flowers out gently with my right hand. I began to arrange them on top of her headstone, informally and free, loosened from the grip the arrangement had on them, set free to celebrate their individual beauty. Because if Marriah were still alive that's how she would celebrate spring. Running barefoot through the soft new grass in her favorite comfy cut off jeans, spending every second outdoors reveling in the suns rays, counting down the seconds til the water was warm enough to swim in, planning Easter egg hunting with her two year old son.
I stood up and appraised my handiwork, talked to her for a minute and was interrupted by the sound of Moon calling my name. "Mom, did you see this at the end of this grave? It says, 'Clifton Edward Bales, World War II'." I walked over and kneeled down by her, took her hand and told her, "Moon, this is your great grandfather. This is Mimi's Dad, and this symbolizes where he served in that war." She looked very curiously, "did he die in the war, Mom?" "No princess, he lived a long happy life. See this headstone up here? Clifton & Kathryn? Kathryn is the person we called Great-Great. Do you remember her?" "Yes, I do, Mom. I remember Great-Great."
I pointed to my beloved grandparents headstones, and said, "Moon, do you know that when we were younger Marriah & I made a pact that whomever had a son first got to name him Clifton, and whomever had a girl first got to name her Kathryn? That's how Marc got his middle name. I had a boy first, so I named him Marcus Clifton, after my grandfather. And Marriah had a daughter, so she named her Kathryn Payton, after our Great-Great."
She let this sink in for a minute. "Really? Does that mean I have to name my son Clifton one day, also?" I shook my head at her, "no, angel. You are free to choose any name you like when you have a son."
And we stood there for a minute, gazing at the three graves of those we love dearly, the sun was almost set and the twilight sky was more beautiful than anything man could ever imagine, and Moon reached and took my hand. As we turned to leave she looked at me with all the sincerity a nine year old can muster and said, "Well, Mom, maybe me & Payton will have a pact just like that, one day."
And the serenity and peace that washed over me from what she had spoken restored my soul, and from her young mind I grasped the beautiful message that I sense now had been in the base of my mind since the first moment I had gazed at those flowers.
Life goes on, and we have to accept it. There are still celebrations to have, milestones to conquer, laughs to share, lives to live. It doesn't mean that we don't miss our loved ones, or that we've completely healed, it signifies that it is the duty of the living to carry on, and share the memories of those gone ahead, to teach the lesson of how to truly define that simple yet oh so complex six letter word, family.
(Thank you, Moon. Thank you so much, my sweet baby girl. Mom loves you.)