Cherry Trees in Bloom, Kyoto, Japan by Q. T. Luong
“Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.” ~ The Koran
Bringing Beauty Where None Exists
This afternoon I created a new floral arrangement to put on Caitlin’s grave. I had hoped to put it together yesterday, but I still did not have everything that I needed. I used to perform this ritual every year, twice a year. I would buy silk flowers and make an arrangement for spring and summer, and place it on Caitin’s grave on her birthday—March 26.
Then I would make another arrangement around the end of October for fall and winter. I would put this arrangement on her grave near the anniversary of her death—November 7.
Eventually, I stopped this ritual. I don’t remember exactly when, but I think that it was near the time of my father’s death, which also occurred in November. I cannot remember why I stopped or what was behind my thought process.
But this year, I decided that I really wanted to make a new arrangement and go to the cemetery. My desire probably arises from my recent series, Vale et Memini, in which I chronicle Caitlin’s illness and death.
So I purchased silk flowers again, and it took me back to those days gone by in which the actual ritual of selecting the flowers was enough to set me back for days, sometimes weeks. I would walk the aisles of Norfolk Wholesale florist for hours, putting together flowers, and then putting some back because I did not like the color scheme. Every choice that I made was personal and instigated by my need to bring beauty to a place that is not beautiful.
I remember that after we buried Caitlin in the infant cemetery, I was so depressed by the lack of trees and fresh blooms in that particular section of the cemetery.
Most of the older sections had beautiful maples and oaks surrounding the periphery, but not the infant section. Consequently, I approached the groundspeople about purchasing trees for the plot. Based on their recommendation, we purchased five Chinese Yoshino Blooming Cherry trees. They planted four along the back of the lot, and one on the end of the row where Caitlin was buried.
This was a family project. Everyone in the family contributed money towards the purchase. Then, about four years later, we purchased one more tree to be planted on the other end of Caitlin’s row.
Now, every spring when the trees bloom, the infant cemetery is surrounded by beautiful pale pink blooms. It was the best investment that I ever made. Other parents hang wind chimes in the trees, and for the most part, the groundspeople do not remove them. At first they thought that I had hung all of the windchimes, but I had not. I was content to have just the trees and the blooms.
The infant cemetery has unwritten rules of conduct for visitors: if someone is visiting, most people will wait in their cars until the parent or relative or friend has finished with their visit so as not to intrude. Many people who visit there do not just clean their children’s gravesites, but will pick up stray trash and set right flowers that have fallen over.
It’s a horrible fraternity to belong to, but at the same time, there is comfort in being with people who are just as devastated as you are and who can truly understand what life has become for you.
On that note, I will close with a few poems from the vault that reflect my varying states after Caitlin’s death.
“Each flower is a soul opening out to nature.” ~ Gerald De Nerval
From the Vault:
Cherry Twig by Rose Siegl-Ibsen
On buying silk flowers
for my daughter’s grave. A ritual I have created for myself to prepare me for the anniversary of her death, the logic being this: If I can take her beauty that I have made, then I won’t have to dwell on the painful truth that brings me to a grave in an infant cemetery on a Monday afternoon in November.
Forest Lawn Cemetery,
among the stone faces of the cherubs
and the silent marble lambs
I have finally come to know
that it is all here, you see,
that no matter how far I travel from this place,
how hard I try to rebuild with what is left,
the piece of me that was you
will always beckon me to return here–
to this soil, this cold earth,
which cradles but does not comfort.
Nothing is nurtured here.
where renewal is as lifeless
as the silk poinsettias,
lovingly placed, then forgotten
left to fade beneath a late winter sun
warm as April, but without the glory.
In this most solitary of places–
crowded with souls long gone
and those newly taken–
here in this small plot of land,
lie the lost dreams
of too many fathers,
too many mothers,
who buried their hopes with their children
in this ground, fertile with sorrows.
Last Possible Second
Do you have any idea what it is like to hold someone you love until she dies? Until that last second when all sound is gone and you are sucked into a void—complete nothingness. And then the monitor doesn’t make that steady beep any more, and all of a sudden, you hear all of the sounds that had been there all along, but you had just stopped noticing them: the footsteps, the nervous coughs, the sounds of the other monitors attached to other patients. But most of all, you hear your own heartbeat. It starts somewhere deep inside of your gut and pulsates relentlessly within your ears. And you would give anything if the sound would just stop. If your heart would just stop. If all of the noise would just stop. Because if it did, then you would never have to move into that next second when you know for certain that all possibilities have ceased to exist and that the pain—a pain that you have never felt before, are unfamiliar with, are not used to assimilating and reacting to—that pain has only just begun to consume you. So you wish most of all that your own heart would stop, just as hers did. And then neither of you would ever have to feel the pain again.
Small Silent Victories
I did not.
I did not go.
I did not swallow
the handful of pills on
what would have been your first birthday.
I did not allow myself to return to the emergency room
to slay the resident who said you only had a virus.
I did not allow myself to stay barren forever.
I did not let myself stop feeling things when
I could have stopped feeling anything.
I did not forget how to love others.
I have not forgotten how you smelled.
I have not forgotten you.
I have not left.
I am still here.
I am, still.
More later. Peace.