Flower of the Dead

Does not sound like something pretty does it? And what on Earth does a flower have to do with writing?

I’m in Mexico and I just celebrated the Day of the Dead by parading around with a bunch of exuberant and voluptuous marigolds searching for someone to share them with. Marigolds which are several sizes larger than the marigolds in my mother’s planter box when I was a little girl. In a cemetery jam packed with the living to be with the spirits of their loved ones, I clutched my bouquet of this golden flower of death and the juicy merlot red of another flower whose velvety pattern resembles a delicate brain. But instead of a brain, I read that it is suppose to resemble the blood of Christ. Still, it looked like a brain to me.

As I brandished my blooms and picked my way through the mass of hundreds of observers, I found a few bare grave sites. Maybe their relatives were just running late and in a few hours the final resting places of these departed souls would be as ornately festooned with flowers and other offerings as their adjacent neighbors. But in case these marooned spots were indeed going to remain naked and unattended this day, I sprinkled some blossoms on the dirt mounds or stuffed a thin bouquet in the permanently affixed vases which up until the moment I arrived remained empty.

No one wants to be forgotten. So, for today, this Day of the Dead, I, this visitor with no formal connection to these souls, would have to do. I said “hello” to no one there and told each one that they had mattered.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

I’ve lived through the death of Allison, the person with whom I had spent the majority of my life. Hers was the first real death to cross over my threshold and invade my space. It was sudden and not expected.

My grief and shock imbue my writing. Death is so ordinary. So simple. So final. And really very plain.

That plainness is the part I have a hard time getting over. We go on. We perform our daily tasks. We file our taxes. We get our groceries. We go through our loved ones things. We send death certificates so that we can cancel the deceased’s phone. We live. Sometimes that doesn’t feel right. The world should have stopped. But, it didn’t.

Grass still grows and it grows over the graves of the people we loved.

I am writing through this grief. Grief honors the past. I write so that grief doesn’t become fear. I use this grief to find the truth about the life I have lived and the life that I will live.

And for the first time ever, though I’ve traveled to Mexico close to a hundred times, I walked with others and left something behind for people long dead and who I had never met. I celebrated. Well, I can never celebrate what happened, but I can embrace the next passage for those who have to move on.  I can honor the time that I had with them while they were alive. They live on when we remember them. Remembering Allison, my grandparents, my Aunt Roby – remembering them is my job. I would like to think that they want me to continue my own journey on this planet with a smiling heart instead of a shredded one. I would like to think that they were with me in this place with a bright November sun where I knew no one.


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