The morning after my mother-in-law was buried, I go outside to water my plants. I carefully pluck away the withered blooms of the formerly resplendent purple pansies, snap off the stems of the wispy red geranium blossoms. There is a comfort in gently tending the flowers, fingering those that have gradually faded away and the plump buds of those yet to come.
And so it goes, one life ends and another begins, our family losing its last parent and grandparent while just weeks before welcoming our newest little one to our midst. Turn, turn, runs through my head, both the words from Ecclesiastes that remind of the never ending progression of life’s seasons, and the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics that became one of my generation’s anthems, setting the biblical refrain to music, ever so delicately raising the specter of the inevitable cycling of life even for those of us then still in the flush of youthful exuberance.
A time to be born, a time to die.
And yet, in the morning light, I reflect on that liminal space between life and death, that initial shock of loss, and its finality, made no more real than in the funeral rituals, the searing rip of a lapel, the thump of earth on the grave, and then, the pitcher of water to wash hands to separate ourselves from death as we return from the cemetery, the platter of hard boiled eggs on the table, their very roundness a reminder of life’s circling. The stream of friends to our home, the hugs, the whispered condolences, the stories shared, the reminder that we are not alone. Loss sets us apart, and yet, in a very human, visceral way, it brings us close. No one is immune, no one invulnerable. We mourn, as the traditional blessing goes, among the mourners of Zion.
And we remember. My mother-in-law’s quaint turn of phrase, comes to my mind, when she recalled “keeping company” with the man who became her husband of more that six decades. Of their first apartment where she proudly “set up housekeeping.” Of her admonitions not to throw out the old water until we had new, and that, lo, even we, young and seemingly immortal, could not dance at two weddings. She worried continually about our well being, a sniffle that could become more, a cough that boded worse. And she was so very proud of our accomplishments, laminating news clippings and framing our awards for her personal hall of fame.
She is missed, and yet she is forever with us, in the legacy she leaves us of a mother fiercely protective and loving, of a strong, independent woman who lived life to the fullest, and then left us quietly, simply fading away like my flowers, in her own time, in her own way.
I look out this morning and see that the potted plants are again blooming on my patio, a profusion of colorful pansies, a burst of plump scarlet geraniums, a spray of vivid greenery at their roots.
Life goes on, they remind, even as it has been irrevocably upended. The flowers die, the potential for new ones beckons.
And our memories become a blessing.