Devin Dearing Preston: NYC writer, playwright, and storyteller

Fading Flowers

September 16, 2011

I’ve started keeping beautiful cut flowers in my apartment. At my writing desk, in the kitchen, elegantly arranged on the coffee table full of life and color and vibrancy. I do it to train myself to better handle death.

I’ll explain.

They are always lovely and never fail to brighten my days. They open up and release a pleasant fragrance into the air. They make my home seem more alive. And then, they always die. Sometimes within days, sometimes they last a long week, sometimes a few days more. But eventually they shrivel and die. Every time. They bring me great joy, but once they start to wilt, droop and sag in their vases, I must ceremoniously remove them from my life. Be grateful for the days we had together and move on. Deal with the small disappointment I suffer accepting that my hydrangea’s were not intended to brighten my days forever, place them in the trash and replace them with whatever flower moves me the next time I wander past a sidewalk display.

Will the sunflowers last longer, I casually consider. Maybe thesechrysanthemums will beat the odds. I pick hearty still budding flowers when I am feeling fragile and delicate ones on their last glorious days when I know I can withstand their immediate departure.

In my own short 28 years on this planet I have already personally witnessed the death of 48 fish, 8 cats, 4 hamsters,  3 grandparents,
2 very old great-grandparents and my one and only father. You would think that I have had all the death training one needs. That I at least can grasp the fleeting nature of life. Things die. People, pets, plants pass on. A simple and hard fact. Or that maybe I would choose to protect myself against this reality that I am no stranger to. Avoid it instead of welcome it into every empty vase in my home weekly.

The logic is that I want to see things I love come in and out of my life as often as it takes for me to understand. To arrive at a place where my gut can embrace the unavoidable reality of impermanence. And with flowers, nobody gets hurt.  I can briefly be sad that something beautiful isn’t anymore, but know that I move forward. The daisies are gone but I am still here. Their absence doesn’t have to destroy me. Or alter my understanding of life as I know it. Death is the only certainty and the sooner I become comfortable with that truth, the greater my ease with the rest of life’s sad truths will become. Theoretically.

That’s the hope, anyway. One I reminded myself of as I got a little over emotional about the decline of my two favorite flower arrangements to date. They were reminders of the wedding I worked last Saturday, that had me homesick for you. They played “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places”, dad,  for the bride’s Texas relatives and I burst into tears. They never play that song in New York, so it caught me off guard at a reception that already had me lost in memories of you due to the intoxicated state of almost every Irish wedding guest.

And when I woke up and saw those flowers fading, yesterday I couldn’t help but panic. I began to bargain with God. “Really? Please, don’t take them? Not yet, I’m not ready to say good-bye. I’ve barely gotten to enjoy them. It’s too soon! Just give me a few days more?” Through my tears I had a small moment of clarity.

I still need more training, is all.

Perhaps a silly pursuit, now that I am admitting it to you dad, whose absence I feel daily. I don’t know if it is possible to have a “healthy” amount of sadness over the loss of things. Or if it is a sadness I can eventually condition myself to manage. An absent father is not exactly the same as a decaying flower arrangement. People are not pansies. When mom dies or Gillian or one of my closest friends, I suspect it won’t be like placing some brown and shriveled rose petals on top of my coffee grounds in my kitchen garbage can.

This weekly ritual is only a touch disappointing at worst, but the reality remains that I can go out immediately and get thriving blossoms to take their place.

Or maybe that is the lesson.

I can never get the exact same flowers. But I can love the new flowers just as much as the past perennials. I love them not because they have replaced them, but for their own individual quality that also lightens my life. I can be drawn to the same kinds of flowers, with similar qualities, and be just as thrilled with them as I care to be. While simultaneously knowing that they only enhance my already lovely apartment. It won’t stop me from delighting in having them around. Nor do I let the thought of their eventual demise stop me from bringing them into my home in the first place.

I’m learning and growing with each new bouquet. I still miss you. But get to practice letting go, almost weekly. And thought you would appreciate how I was learning to move on.

Love you, still and always,


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Categories: Letters I Will Never Send

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