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.
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,
Categories: Letters I Will Never Send