Thursday, January 13, 2011


When Cleo died last June, a neighbor friend brought a condolence gift of sweets and snacks to me. With an artist's flourish, he decorated the white box with a small bouquet of flowers he'd picked from his garden. I placed them in a small crystal vase, then set it beside Cleo's photo--a Love's Freeway card I had taken out for display when I was preparing to leave for Vermont a few weeks prior. It was one of those half-conscious things we do, in this case as if to say to her many caregivers that weekend, "This is the dignified creature you're looking after," as if I wanted them to remember her--to see her--as able and strong.

I kept that little vase going for months--removing dead flowers and replenishing it with fresh
ones from my garden. I never really decided to do this--again, it was one of those half-conscious things. Still, I've continued to keep it going. I keep thinking I'll stop it, that it will come to a natural conclusion. But it doesn't, it hasn't. Not yet.

It was easy in the summer and through the fall to come up with replacements. I thought winter would be the end of it, but then the Christmas cacti started blooming, in succession. One by one they've had their turn in the place of the vase. But the last cactus's show is pretty much over.

Yesterday I looked over at that spot and thought "white carnations." I could see them there--the miniature ones: clean and perky and spicy. And that decided it. I would go buy flowers. Besides, I needed cat food.

Off I went to the Stop & Shop, with the its previous store's abundant floral case in mind. Their new and improved, "Super" store, unveiled about a year ago, has had very little comparatively in the way of flowers, but still I was hopeful. Alas, there were no white mini carnations to be had, but I chose a pathetic little bouquet of four or so assorted stems that was the next "best" thing, along with said cat food, and got in queue to pay.

"Don't buy this bouquet," I thought--or heard. It absolutely wasn't worth even the $4.99 price tag. I hated paying for flowers that weren't fresh. I really thought I should put them back. But then what? "You came for flowers" my mind reasoned. So I bought them, such as they were.

How silly I felt when I spotted basket upon basket of fresh, vibrant flowers overflowing from the cemetery dumpster on the way back. I'm sure I was bug-eyed. I've never seen such a riot of flowers left for dead. Having overfilled the dumpster, they had left several baskets beside it even, on the pavement. There they sat: practically flawless and stunning and ready to love. I was parked beside them and filling the car before I could say "Oh my goodness."

Odd to say, but it felt like rescue. I had to work fast. Some were wilting. There were roses involved. And snow was coming--a blizzard, no less. By morning, they would all be smothered to death. Crazy but true: it was a triage moment. I could feel myself assessing their conditions at a glance, choosing those most likely to survive, turning away from others that could make it... but there just isn't room for them all.

Night wasn't far off: they wouldn't have a chance after that. I can't keep all these I thought as I put two heavy baskets in the trunk. I felt torn: take them, or leave them? Would others come for them in time? Who could I call? I felt guilty, greedy, then reassured myself: I could share them with friends.

Wow. I hadn't handled this many flowers since my funeral home days. And just like in the old days, I dragged out all my vases and went to work. I plucked, snipped, sorted, arranged. And I kept plucking, snipping, sorting, and arranging. I would think I was parking flowers temporarily to give away, but before I knew it, I had created another arrangement. I kept thinking I should call someone, send them down there to save the rest, post a notice on my neighborhood e-list. But I had a room full of flowers to attend to, so I kept at it. My kitchen had turned flower shop and had become quite the disaster area: crumblings of wet florist sponge, snippings of greens and stems and leaves, crushed petals, the casualties--all in a strew, everywhere. Creation is a messy process.

I made a mixed, semi-tropical bouquet for my friend who misses her beloved Puerto Rico, and brought it to her door. I delivered two bouquets of roses to other friends. "It's as though you knew without knowing," said one as he took his to his kitchen in search of a vase of water. In my frenzy, I had forgotten: he had surgery scheduled the next day and was nervous about it.
The roses were perfect, he told me. They would calm and comfort him.

Then came the clean up. And after that, all that was left was to enjoy them, the fruits of all that labor--four hours, all tolled--this gift of the Earth, this nod from the grave. I suppose these are "funeral flowers" around me. Second hand, and god knows why--fresher than the flowers I'd bought--set out as trash. All I know is they are beautiful--extraordinarily varied and beautiful: a feast, a festival in my midst--and I love them. I am delighted, as the snow continues to fly and pile higher and higher outside, to have saved them from an unnecessarily early demise. They had so much more Light to shine, so much more Love to give, so much delight to inspire. They are beaming--from table, from mantel, from organ, from bookcase, from staircase, from dresser, from sill, from floor. I am surrounded here, in the dead of winter, by the Love of the living Earth, greeted by It at every turn.

I could say this is thanks to Cleo--that is its own marvel. To think that honoring the dead could set so much life, so much Love in motion. It is marvelous, no?

Then again, don't we know: you just can't give It away.


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