I arrived for my mother’s Memorial a day early last year. One of the few things left to do was to prepare the roses, turned into rose petals, to include with her ashes for the funerary basket. She wanted to be creamated and set to rest in her beloved Pacific ocean. Between my sister and the cousin to which my mother was the closest, everything was mostly done by the time I arrived that morning, except for the checking their respective lists twice to make sure nothing and no one was overlooked. All through the morning and into the afternoon I heard them say to one another, “We can’t forget the roses”.
With picking up people at LAX, a family lunch at Pann’s, and driving all over West Los Angeles deliveriing family members to their hotels and tying up loose ends, it was nearly four ‘o clock. We were at my mother and sister’s apartment catching our breath before a family dinner on the beach that night at one of my mother’s favorite spots, when I heard my sister say to my cousin, “We didn’t get to the flower market!”. I could see my sister’s anxiety threatening to explode through the roof and so it was decided they’d order the flowers from Costco using Instacart, at my cousin’s suggestion. They could be delivered while we were at dinner and then dealt with later in the evening. So, I offered to turn the 3 or 4 dozen roses into rose petals for the basket once we got back from dinner. That way my sister could get some rest and breathing room with a good friend and my cousin could spend some time resting and visiting with her family.
I’ve written about my relationship with my mother here before. It was difficult, fraught with emotional landmines and potholes, and always an underlying uneasiness between us. In more ways than she would acknowledge, we were pretty much strangers. This thing though, this preparing roses for her funerary basket, seemed appropriate. It seemed like a such a small yet intimate thing to do for her and I was grateful for the opportunity to do something for the woman who was the reason I walk around on this planet. Thankful I got to say goodbye and send her with forgiveness and compassion to wherever it was she was headed. Not a big believer in the concept of heaven or hell, and the jury is still out on the whole reincarnation thing, I call it Someplace Else.
As I cut the flowers off of their stems I was, at first, reminded of Morticia Addams trimming her roses for an arrangement, and I giggled. I knew my mother would probably have enjoyed that observation too. As I worked, I spoke to my mother as I had never been able to while she was alive. I wanted her to know that I loved her in my own way and that I was sorry for not being able to articulate or demonstrate that. Even when I was a child our relationship was never what you would consider close, and once I was put in state placement at sixteen-years-old, there never was a real opportunity to reconcile completely. We just didn’t trust one another- not with real feelings, not with our hearts. Too much time and too much water had passed under the proverbial bridge to ever go back by the time we tried another reconciliation when I was nearly forty-years-old. It always worked for a short time and then it didn’t. We always retreated into the same old toxic patterns we learned years before as coping mechanisms.
I thought of these things, as I worked, sharing them with the spot she used to occupy on the couch. I wondered if she understood why there were no tears, just a deep, abiding sadness that is left from grieving and mourning a mother you never really had. I spoke aloud my wish that if another life was where she ended up, she would be treated more gently, more kindly next time, as I thought of her childhood and marriage to my father.
I wished her joy. I wished her peace. I wished her love. If I had had some lavender, I would have added it to her rose petals. Instead, I went to her spice cabinet and grabbed the sage. As I shook it into my hand and sprinkled it onto the petals, I wished her protection, and clearing, and an easy journey. I thought of the Cherokee story of the Dog Star, the brightest star in Earth’s night sky and the guardian of either end of the Path of Souls; the Dog Star where we can always look, speak to, and know our Ancestors are guiding us.
The next day, when the Captain of the boat asked if anyone wanted to say anything, I remembered all I had said to her the night before. I listened to my uncle speak of his love for his sister and his regret. I watched my sister and our cousins comforting each other and I wondered how my sister would move on from here. I thought of how my mother cobbled together a life for herself and my sister, after the one she had been living with my father for 17 years disintegrated, leaving her with a bitterness and disillusionment she never quite got over. I watched my other uncle wrap his arms around his wife as they both looked out to the sea. I saw my aunt, with her face to the salty wind, her hand resting atop her husband’s. Finally, I felt the warmth and the softness of the hand of the woman, who cared for me and looked after me in state placement; still the tiniest bit amazed she’d dropped everything to be there with me on such short notice and so grateful for her presence in my life now; thankful she was the one who was there when I desperately needed unconditional love and understanding.
As my mother’s funerary basket was lowered down to the water, I stood back and watched the rose petals float away on a new course, on the Path of Souls. I again silently repeated my wishes, my prayer, my simple eulogy as she moved on to Someplace Else.
I hope she finally heard me.