I still haven’t written about losing my dad, and that was nearly two years ago now. The blog began and has remained a draft. I’ve been so stuck, unable to finish it. How does one summarize a life so long and large in one short narrative?
And now my mom is gone.
Not for tears, or overwhelming emotion, I wasn’t able to even make adequate comments at her graveside service yesterday; speechless because she was this huge personality fit into this little frame of a woman. A two minute summary of the meaning of her life was absolutely impossible.
My mom and I shared an easy love of simple pleasures in life – like a cup of hot tea, a yard sale on a spring day, sitting on a bench amongst beautiful flowers. She would often come over to the Friendship House and hunt for any flower bloom that had fallen over, or was leaning, so that she could ask gently, “Oh, Suzie, that one is broken – can I take it home and put it in water?” Of course one bloom amounted into a beautiful bouquet, which was okay, because I did the very same thing in her flower garden.
We would oftentimes walk slowly around the house, looking at the new beds I had created, or the day lilies she had given me that were established and blooming. Dad’s lilac bush that mom gave me last year, this little stubbly thing he had purchased through a mail order catalog, was blooming big purple blooms this spring, even though the weak stems could hardly support them all. Mom and I figured it was Dad tending it from Heaven, encouraging the plant to give its all in this life.
This past Saturday morning, as I was preparing to meet my brother and his girlfriend Becky for brunch, to discuss funeral arrangements, my heart led me to know, instinctively, I needed to put together mom’s funeral flowers, myself. Strangely, Mom had hung on to the label of thirty years ago that gladiolas and lilies were funeral flowers, reminding her of death and the pall of a funeral parlor. In no way did Mom want reminders of death and dying, even if it was her life we were memorializing. This wasn’t a simple decision, it was a drive inside my heart that my mom’s flowers needed to be collected from her own yard, and my two yards, with a few roses and large mums thrown in for that royal touch. The arrangements would be pieces of me.
As I sit here writing, I am looking at the “Mother” arrangement, now displayed on my dining room table. Even the greenery is from my yard, the Rose of Sharon tree branches and lemon balm mom gave me last year. Phlox, like the ones of my childhood memories at W. 225th street, began blooming at Friendship on Friday – they hadn’t been on Thursday. And surprisingly, both the pink and white peonies had enough fresh blooms left, even though I was certain they were bloomed out last week. I made sure to include a few daisies from Savanna’s graduation flowers – an event Mom attended only five days before her unexpected passing. The pride on her face was as big as a few weeks before at Alicia’s college graduation.
Unfortunately, this blog post today will be short – certainly not relative to the big life my mom lived. Words really could not describe her joy, her drive to make every day matter, to be happy even in the worst of circumstances. If you were to see these flower bouquets, how many varieties of blooms and greens assembled into these surprisingly gorgeous arrangements, you might understand… her life was so much like that. Daisies could mix with mustard flowers, highlighted with perfectly shaped roses and day lilies that didn’t even close at night; tree greens that didn’t wilt, even though they don’t normally get assembled into a vase with ornamental sage.
Mom was such a mixture of good, such a positive friend to her neighbors, such a critical but supportive mom… a mixture of what normally doesn’t go together, but did with Mom, and worked. She would harass me in one breath and love me fervently in the next. Mom loved her grandchildren more passionately than any grandparent I know – and still managed to include Jessica Bradley in as her own, just like she loved Kevin and me, as much as she drew in Becky as her own daughter.
Mom embraced everyone and everything, forming a patchwork quilt of personalities and relationships. She wasn’t about loving one “kind” of person, one religion, one orientation, one culture – she talked with everyone, was open to everyone, accepted everyone. Like mixing hosta with lavender.
Just as Mom was traditional in so many things, like having dinner together on Sunday and holidays, like believing in true love finding a way, she was nontraditional in that this woman wanted what she wanted. No open casket, no funeral procession… no visiting her at the cemetery, either. “If ‘ya didn’t come visit me while I was alive, don’t come visit me when I’m dead,” she so often said.
I am sure Mom wouldn’t want us to be crying for her, either… but remembering all those many times we spent together, even if we were just walking the garden.
“Oh, Suzie, you did such a nice job on my flowers.” Thanks, Mom.
It was the right thing to do. Mom would have wanted it that way.