Monday, August 21, 2017

Watermelon, Irises, Tomatoes, Geraniums, and a Spider: Does Time Heal Wounds?

In bereavement meetings parents have certain topics that continue to be discussed. One's about time and wounds. A mother who had lost her daughter to a car accident just weeks before my son died, said to the group, "They say that time heals all wounds." She was southern and I couldn't understand if she was saying "all wounds" or "old wounds".

I suppose the question that I wanted to ask was: Does time heal? At all? As the minutes, hours, and days tick away in agony, do all wounds get taken care of, soothed, do the scabs heal, do the ugly scars fade?

As a newly-grieving mom, I knew so little about the journey I had been forced to take, but I did know one thing, and that was that old scars do not fade away. I've had a scar since I was two, a paintbrush I was playing with in the bathtub attacked me and cut the skin near my left eye. My parents wrapped me in a towel, held me while I cried, felt awful, and later would wonder if they should have taken me to get stitches. The blood dried up, and healing started, but that scar is still visible all these years later.

So time doesn't heal old wounds. I suspect that after 54 years, that scar on the corner of my eye has done all the healing it is going to do.

No wonder I resonated with another bereaved mother, a veteran, who at fifteen years since her son took his own life, said to me over lunch one afternoon years ago, "I think I've done all the healing that I'm going to do."

She wasn't giving up on healing or digging a hole and hiding, she was being realistic. There comes a point in the bereaved parent's life when she or he knows that it is not going to get any better than this.

For me, I'm not going to be able to look at the things that remind me of Daniel and not feel that tenderness in my heart. Since his death, two fruits, two flowers, and one spider have kept me in the loop of significant memories. The watermelon, the geranium, the tomato, the iris, and the spider are some of the things that hold powerful remembrances for me. And depending on the time of year (Christmas, Daniel's birthdate in August or death date in February), if I encounter any of these, well, bring on the Puffs.

Society may think time washes it all away like an ocean wave. Build a sand castle at the beach and once the waves knock it down, there is no evidence that a sandcastle once stood in the spot. Many can't believe that after ten, fifteen, or twenty years a mother or father can still feel pain.

But it's not that our desire is to feel pain, it's that we want to remember and since our child is dead, of course, it's always going to make us sad.

When I see a purple iris blooming in my garden, I recall the time Daniel, at age three, couldn't say my name Alice well enough to be understood by strangers and they thought he was saying, "My mommy's name is Iris."

Daniel picked green tomatoes from our garden, even though I told him to wait till they ripened. He took a green tomato to the hospital once and put it on the window sill of his room. He had seen me place green tomatoes on the kitchen window sill at our home, with the hope that the sun would stream in and turn them red.

There are many watermelon stories, including the one where friends brought a watermelon to Daniel when he was in the hospital for chemo treatments on the Fourth of July. He ate a few slices, spit seeds (this was back when all watermelon had "spittable" black seeds), and then said, "I think I've had enough watermelon," and stored the leftovers in the bathtub.

One afternoon I heard Daniel chanting, "A spider, a spider for a pet, a spider for a pet," and when I found him, he was outside watching a tiny spider creep along the side of our house.

And then the geraniums. I would have forgotten about these flowers (and that apparently I was once able to keep flowers alive) if it weren't for the photo of Daniel seated in his blue plastic chair in front of a table with a cup of juice and a blue bowl of food. He chose to eat his lunch outside beside the potted red, pink, and white geraniums. He would have preferred to be naked if I didn't make him wear clothes. When I took that photo, I had no idea that the neck he exposed so nicely held a malignant tumor, one that would surface months later, and change his life and ours forever.

So does time heal old wounds, or even all of them?

No, and for me, that's a good thing.

[Daniel Paul Wisler, August 25, 1992---February 2, 1997]