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Friday, December 29, 2017

Flowers to the Grave

[I wrote this in November, but got side-tracked and am just tweaking and posting it today.]

When you make the second turn down the short road, you see a sign that reads: Low/Soft Shoulder. Just like every journey to the cemetery, a soft shoulder is needed. When you go a bit further another sign greets you: No Outlet. I’m not sure if the sign is referring to the dead or to the rest of us.

The cemetery is Daniel’s Place, named by my children twenty years ago. On this late autumn morning, the sun casts gentle shadows across my son’s small marble marker as the old oak nearby stretches towards Heaven.

When Daniel died at age four after nine months of treatment for cancer (neuroblastoma), I came up with some ideas. First off, I didn’t order a large grave stone. And I didn’t want flower vases. A marker with a built-in vase would mean responsibility and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to visit the grave often enough to replenish the flowers for the vase. Fresh flowers would be best; I wasn’t a fan of plastic ones that faded in the heat of the summer sun. But would I have time (at six months pregnant with a six-year-old and a one-year-old) to buy flowers or pick them from the garden and take them to Daniel's Place? If I had any extra time, I was sure that the rest of society would benefit more if I used it to shower or brush my teeth.

How often was I going to come to this place, remote from the rest of life? I wasn’t going to be one of those Sunday cemetery visitors, heading over after each church service to pay a visit to my son, was I? Besides, I wasn’t sure that this place was going to be one I’d want to visit. Daniel’s memories were at the house where he played with the neighbor kids and his siblings. The garden on the side of our house held the memories of when he picked green tomatoes by the rose bushes. The roses would bloom and be his memorial flowers.

"I'm going to do great things in your memory," I said one March day as the wind made me want to jump into the warmth of my Mom Van, not stand by Daniel's grave. "I'm not sure what I'll do, but it will be great." Oh, the things I would do, could do.

Twenty years later, I have found that the flowers in the grave vases still look fake, staged, and often forlorn.

Also, I have realized that over those years, I still have not done anything great.

But I have learned lessons that only time could have taught me about life and death and the things we do in memory.

We have this continual need to care for our loved ones. We want to do things in their memory. Unlike flowers, our love and our relationship with them does not ever fade and wither. When the living can adorn the grave of their loved ones, that shows another way to say I still love you. I still care. So I bring pinwheels, helium balloons, and solar lights, and yes, even an occasional flower. I write a poem or short story and tuck it away to edit and perhaps, share.

The amazing truth is that over the years, love grows. My love for my living children, husband, and friends has grown.

And my love for Daniel has grown, too. I tell his stories, the silly jokes he recited at age four from a tattered joke book, and watch others smile.

It is love that remains.

And that's a pretty great lesson to have learned.


Pat Morse said...

Beautifully written Alice.

Debby said...

This is simply as beautiful as you are ALice BG. I agree with you about the vase for fake flowers.....I didn't get that either. I did take a silk poinsettia over the other day though and only leave it for a few days more. You did do wonderful things with your creative grief books and cards, your published books, how many people dream
of that and never achieve that awesome goal. You host grief writing classes and the list goes on.....Alice BG ROCKS!!

Suzy Parish said...

You have done great things for his memory. Getting Out of Bed in the Morning has travelled around quite a bit. I wish we knew the stories of people that book has touched, but I'm sure you will hear them in Heaven. You are a great mom. Hugs!

Kristi Butler said...

You are a treasure, Alice. And you have done great things and ministered to so many...helping them find their way through writing out their feelings, helping them get out of bed in the morning, and providing an escape through your beautiful novels.

I regret terribly that I didn't know you better in those days and wish so much that I'd been a soft shoulder for you on your journey. I'm so sorry.

You are in my prayers. I wish I could hug your sweet neck.

With love,

Jean Zablin said...

Alice, you have done many great things since Daniel has gone to Heaven. You have helped many people through their grieving process. You have written 6 books and have travelled abroad. You have started a business and most of all raised a family including Daniel. All that you have done is in Daniel's memory. He knows it along with all the people that have had the pleasure of knowing you. You are an angel among us on earth. Love to that you have touched.

Jean Ainsworth Zablin

Kit Tosello said...

Alice, Just want you to know your grief-writing workshop came at just the right time for me eight years ago. It got me back into creative writing, which led to article writing and inspirational blogging. Often I get to hear how something I've written has made a difference, encouraging someone. So the ripples of your tender work are far-reaching. By the way, I'm also working on both a non-fiction book and my first novel. Thank you!