Lilacs For Remembrance

Long before Ophelia begged Laertes, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember,” mourners would throw rosemary into graves as a symbol of remembrance.

Rosemary doesn’t mean much to me. It’s not an herb I like, nor is it a plant that has any association for me, though there is a humongous rosemary bush outside my father’s house that was once a potted rosemary Christmas tree. (Until I saw the bush and heard the story of its origin, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a rosemary Christmas tree.)

LilacsTo me, lilacs are for remembrance. I grew up in a large family with a scraggly yard. Except for occasionally mowing the lawn, no one bothered much with keeping the yard nice, though when I was in second grade, I was allowed to grow a small garden. (“Grow” is a misnomer. I planted sweet Williams, and one or two flowers even came up despite my massive neglect.) Surprisingly, a lilac bush thrived in a corner of that unkempt yard. Though no one ever took care of it, never even watered it, it managed to bring forth gorgeous and gorgeous-smelling blossoms every spring. Truly a miraculous plant.

Many years later, my now deceased life mate and I transplanted an unruly lilac bush that blocked a gate. We ended up with dozens of plants, enough to surround the whole property. Apparently there were plenty of live roots left because eventually the original bush grew to be as large as it was before we’d massacred it. Western Colorado is often visited by late frosts, so we didn’t always have lilac blossoms, but the spring before he died, the entire place was wreathed by luscious blooms, a luxury he once could only dream of.

A year after he died, I was Blindsided by Lilacs. I’d come to a desert community to look after my aged father. The vegetation was completely different from anything I was familiar with, so there were no scent memories. Then one April day, when I was walking down the street, the smell of lilacs wafted toward me from an empty lot. Instantly, I was back in full grief mode, unable to stop crying for days. Today, I felt sad and needed to feel close to him, so when I passed that still empty lot, I went to inhale the blossoms and think of him.

I’d never put flowers by his photo, not wanting it to seem like a shrine, but today I picked a sprig of lilac and brought it back for him.

Sitting here now, I can smell that lovely fragrance, and I remember.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: Blindsided by Lilacs

Who knew I would find lilacs in this desert community?

My life mate — my soul mate — loved lilacs. We once saw a house with lilacs lining the long driveway, and he wanted to live there, but we couldn’t afford such luxury. Shortly after we moved to the house where we were to spend the rest of his life, we dug up the lilacs that blocked a gate and replanted them around the perimeter of the yard. When we moved to that house, it was like living in an aquarium — there was absolutely no privacy. By the time he died, it was such a lush environment, it was like living in a terrarium — and there was total privacy. And the gate was once again blocked with lilacs. Apparently, we’d left just enough rootstock that the bushes grew back.

We planted all sorts of bushes and trees in addition to those lilacs, and the thrill of watching our seedlings grow to adulthood was another thing we shared in a twinned life that was all about sharing. It should have been hard leaving the place, but I was in such grief over his death that one more loss didn’t really make much difference to my sorrow.

I still don’t miss the place, or not that much. A place is just a place. I am homesick, but homesick for him. He was home. I miss him. I miss our life together. If he were to call and tell me he was waiting for me, I’d go to him wherever he was — mountains or desert, city or country, there I would be. But he’s never going to call. For months after I came here to the desert to try to figure out what comes next, I’d listen for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me that he was well and I could come home. That feeling is finally fading, but the loss of that feeling just makes me sadder — he is gone and I have to deal with the vicissitudes of life by myself.

I have minor upsurges of grief a couple of times a day, but I try to be upbeat. I have a new book published. I am getting new clothes, trying to reinvent myself from the outside in. I have made new friends (mostly people who have lost their mates. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know someone when you cry together). I’ve been handling myself well.

And then . . .

Today, strolling around the neighborhood (it was too windy to walk in the desert), I happened to smell lilacs, and instantly, I was back in full-fledged grief mode. People keep telling me one never gets over grief, you just learn to live with it, and that appears to be true. Grief seems to lurk in dark places, ready to gush forth when one is least expecting it. And I was not expecting it today. How could I have known I would encounter lilacs growing in this desert community?