Thursday, June 14, 2007

Of love and flowers-- a post of many threads

For the first several weeks after A died one of the things that tortured my soul was thinking of how few people know anything about him, knew even that he existed. My wise beyond her years sister tried to talk me down off that particular ledge, but I wasn't having much of it. What I wanted was for the whole world to see how beautiful he was, how big and strong, how long and full of promise his little fingers were. This obsession got a lot better one fine crisp February day, within a week of coming back to work. I was going to get lunch, sun in my eyes, complete lack of sunglasses and forethought obvious, when out of the blue I realized that I love my children the same. Equally. It was such a huge relief, and it took some thinking to appreciate that I felt relieved of a burden I didn't even know I was carrying-- I apparently was worried that I loved my son less. Sometime later I also realized that on that subconscious level where we are all much smarter than we can claim credit for, I already knew that. It's a strange tale of love and flowers. Pull up a chair-- it may take a while.


I always bring the same kind of flowers to my grandfather's grave-- the kind I liked in the store the first time I went to the cemetery after the headstone was put in-- spider mums. There are two vases there, one on each side, and I usually get white and yellow ones-- one color for each side. Spider mums are the flower with thin spiky petals that are usually sold with a net over each flower and, when you are lucky, can look like sunrise through a cloud. It has this delicate stubbornness about it, this flower that seems to be made of shards, fragile and indestructible at the same time. These are all my reflections now, though, and I have no idea why I picked these particular flowers the first time.


This past Sunday was Monkey's second ever piano recital. The first one was ten days before A died. She had harder pieces to play this time, and we got in trouble the week before the recital because JD and Monkey forgot to practice while I was at the camp. The teacher was understandably unamused, and, despite concentrated practice the last couple of days, Monkey did make one small, but noticeable mistake. I thought that because I was smart enough to realize I was pregnant at her only previous recital, I would be prepared to handle this one. Turns out, I wasn't that smart-- I forgot that last time I wasn't just listening to my daughter play, I was also feeling my son dance. I could almost feel it again this Sunday. Almost, but not quite. And that place in between, just out of the grasp of my sensory memory, that was the hardest part.


I am a milk factory. With Monkey, I had so much milk left over and frozen, that it kept a friend's baby off of formula for four straight months. When A's milk came in, I was under strict orders not to pump. I could, if it got bad, manually express some, but not much. I ended up walking around with cabbage leaves inside my sports bra for over three weeks before it was over. It would've been longer if not for sage tea. The point, though, is that one morning, I think maybe the morning after we got back from the hospital, Monkey came in to our bed and wanted to give me a hug. But before she did that, she bunched her nose and asked why I smelled so bad "in there." I told her it was cabbage and I had it there so that my breasts wouldn't hurt. She looked at me like I was nuts, and told me that cabbage was for eating, and, by the way, would I please make her stuffed cabbage?


On Monkey's fifth birthday, and the day before A's due date, I read Kristin's reflections on approaching two years since the death of her beautiful son Thomas. Since I was at work that day, I tried very hard not to cry, and I think I mostly succeeded. I left a comment, though:
The love, the love is overwhelming. It's huge, and, at least for now, it's painful. I realized a little bit ago that I love my children exactly the same, exactly the way a mother should-- the same. It's strange to love these two people the same-- one who I have watched grow for five years, and one I only got to hold after he was gone. It took me several weeks to realize that, and for now it hurts. It hurts because there is nothing I can do to show my son this love. I hope it gets better with time.

Kristin responded, and, if I had to pinpoint where my eventual "I knew it all along" realization started brewing, I think I would have to point to this post. Oh, and it made me cry, but that was mostly ok because I was home by then.


For a week after Monkey's first recital, the house was full of flowers. She got some from us, some from my parents who happened to be visiting, some from her nanny who came to hear her play, and, I think, some from my sister. And a single rose from her teacher.


The morning of the funeral, I got up with a purpose. I needed to make stuffed cabbage for my daughter. Yes, before we left for the cemetery. Yes, absolutely sure. So my mom helped me, and we got it done. By then we were cutting it close, and JD was not thrilled when I said I needed to stop and get flowers on the way. But I knew exactly what I wanted-- purple tulips. Why tulips and why purple? I asked myself briefly, and I couldn't answer, but I knew I wanted to get precisely those flowers. JD agreed to stop by a supermarket directly on our route. There is one with a better floral department a couple of blocks off the route, but that one wasn't happening. Would it surprise you to hear that they only had one kind of tulips in the suboptimal supermarket, and that they were purple?

My sister came to the cemetery with gorgeous white roses. She had called her order in and picked it up on her way. I am so glad she chose them. I thought of why didn't I think of getting something white for my son? Or roses? I always loved roses. Still no answer. But a realization that what I brought was right for me.

Not until Kristin's post got some of those stubborn wheels turning in my head (and then not until Wannabe Mom gave it a final push-- did I kill enough metaphors yet?) did I realize that the flowers I got for Monkey for her first recital were (yeah, you saw this coming) purple tulips. Apparently, I was only being fair. I gave each of my children what I could that day-- flowers for my son, just like his sister had before, and stuffed cabbage for my daughter, just like she asked.


This past Saturday when I ran out for a quick late evening grocery shopping trip, I was thinking of the upcoming recital and the flowers I had a chance to get for my daughter and my son. So when I walked into the store and saw pink peonies, almost the same kind as the ones I bought by the main gate of The Old City Cemetery, I knew I was done for. They were the first to go into the cart. They have opened now, and they are beautiful. The vase I picked can't quite contain all the leaves, but that's ok-- they look more alive this way. On that same shopping trip I also noticed that gerberas have arrived, and thought it would be nice to get those for Monkey. I got her pale pink ones the next day at a different store, and I pulled one from her bouquet to give to her teacher after the recital.

Pretty sure this means that I will be bringing gerberas to the cemetery some time soon. Hm... I think I will skip the pink though.


S. said...

You bring such grace to this.

When my grandmother died, 7 weeks after Z. was born, my mother and I knew there had to be white heather at her burial. And there it was, at the garden center, in bloom.

Lori said...

This is so beautiful Julia. I love the ways you have found to demonstrate your love for both A and Monkey. That is one of the challenges isn't it? How do you show a child who has died how much you love him/her? Some days I feel more successful with that than others. But I always try to remind myself that the ease with which I remember them, the way I carry them with me without even trying to, is all because I love them. I hope they know that.

Adelynne said...

The only reason I called that in is because DF was running late getting ready.

As we were walking out of the supermarket with the flowers he said something like "I was wondering what you'd call in, but then I realised it could only be one thing."

niobe said...

This is a wonderful post.

You manage to weave the many threads into such a lovely and intricate pattern. I especially enjoy reading your thoughts because they are so wholly, unimaginably different from my own.

wannabe mom said...

julia, that was so beautiful and thoughtful. huge lump in my throat as i read this for the second time today. i think the whole 'equal' thing is innate, and my cousin said it in just the right way.

i even struggle with the thought of a tattoo of their names - how to not assign an "order" to them even though one clearly came first.

Yankee T said...

Incredibly beautiful writing and thoughts.

Sara said...

Really lovely post, Julia. Such familiar feelings, even if I can't express them with such beautiful eloquence.

msfitzita said...

((((HUGS))))) - a million of them.

Katarina Jelly Beana said...

Found you through Creme de la Creme...

What a beautiful post--I'm moved beyond belief by your eloquence.

Anonymous said...

Also here from Creme ... what a beautiful post. I am so sorry for your loss. You are clearly a wonderful mom.

Kathy V said...

I came via the creme. that post was just beautiful. It really shows how much you love both Monkey and A. It was wonderful to read such a post. Thanks for posting it on the creme.