Two years ago, we wished my mother happy birthday as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Next to her bed so she could see it should she awake, I put a large helium balloon tied onto a yellow ribbon. A transparent “window” gave a view into a springtime garden. With a backdrop of greens, pinks, yellows, and violets an April garden might hold, a banner displaying the words “happy birthday” in calligraphic script stretched across the blue of the sky, held at each end by a butterfly. For many years, she had worn a necklace of tiny gold links; at the center of the chain, a delicate lacy butterfly was suspended.
On a grey, blustered day last year, I put another balloon next to my mother in hono(u)r of her birthday; placed by her gravestone rather than at the head of a hospital bed.
Among the grey of granite and marble with clouds hanging low, with the air filled with chill and sorrow, the balloon, dancing with the wind, was a bright spot of colo(u)r.
Today she would have been 84; I wore her necklace and filigreed butterfly earrings as I had on the day we laid her to rest next to my father.
Tomorrow is the 2nd anniversary of her death; I will buy a brightly colo(u)red helium balloon tied to a yellow ribbon. In the park, I will let go of the string that binds the balloon to me, to the earth. I will watch it sail upwards, dancing on the wind, until it is a tiny speck of colo(u)r against the backdrop of the sky.
Originally written on April 3, this is a three part blog that I wasn’t sure I would publish. However, events on Sunday and today have seemed like messages that I should put post these entries.
Part I, today; Part II, tomorrow, my mother’s birthday, and Part III, Wednesday, the first anniversary of her death, if things go according to plan, which they never seem to do. Anyway, there are 3 parts to this series, and an addendum/update at the end.
Disclaimer: This blog is: 1) rather long; b) not really about chronicness; c) contains mentions of the “paranormal” so d) read at your own discretion and be forewarned! and e) I’ve decided to divide this into 3 installments, just in case you want to read the essay, it might seem less daunting!
I’ve never been afraid of cemeteries. As a child, it was the only place/time my father would willingly stop as we travelled the back roads from Ontario to Nova Scotia and back again.(for example, through upstate New York and Maine). We would try and find the oldest grave, or the grave with a funny saying or a very sad story. My dad loved history, and he taught me to read graveyards; how to discern from the inscriptions things about the society/community that it served. Given that pre-twentieth century gravestones often gave more information that just name, date of birth and death, there were a lot of lessons to be learned about such things as mortality rates, marriage statistics, the skill of those who crafted and inscribed the stones, the symbols depicted, epidemics, occupations, and religious affiliations.
When I taught, I always included a segment on “reading graveyards” and if there was one handy, I took my class there on a field trip. As acid rain keeps falling, we are loosing the information carefully chiseled into the materials, other than polished granite/marble, used to mark the person’s passing. It’s more than contained in the census or records office. Stories not recorded anywhere else as each generation moves on.
I’ve lived in historic cities with historic grave yards I often used as a supposed short cut, but I usually got so caught up in the gravestones stories and shapes, no real time was saved. Somewhere, too, there is a series of pictures of a group of us in a graveyard at night in the late 1970s/early 1980s. A friend had a new camera and dark room as was using a few of us as guinea pigs. He actually took one of the few half decent photos of me – I wasn’t looking at the camera and he captured me in deep conversation, playing with my hair the way I still do.
But, I am digressing! When Dad died, mom rarely visited his grave site. I, and my hubby and I, got in the habit of if we were in town. Dropping by to check and tend to the bonsai-like rhoddie (rhododendron) and the succession of bushes planted on the other side of the tombstone that never quite made it, and clean lichen off the stone. A major component of each visit was a quiet conversation with Dad. It was more than just a hello; “we” meaning I or my hubby and I told him what was going on with my mother – our frustrations and our sorrow over the changed personality and her “need” to be miserable – and asked for his help (if possible). We told him the kind of weird, warped things in our lives he would find funny. Now of course, I visit with Mom, too. Grass is slowing growing on the small square cut into the ground for her locally made, gorgeous cherry wood box urn. Grass seed is on my list of things to purchase.
But this week, I felt we 3 needed to have a conversation. It was time for some dialogue.
Continued in “conversations at graveside: opening season, laundry lights, and calling a truce; part II”