It was a gorgeous day, very like the day we buried the urn – blue, sunny, breezy. The third anniversary, marked with a picnic at his grave, peaceful under a huge willow tree. This time it felt less like a ritual of grief, and more like a simple, everyday gesture of love.
The rose we planted that first year didn’t do well this year. Too many Japanese beetles pockmarking the leaves, same as they have done to the roses in my butterfly garden at home. The vortex didn’t help, either. The soaked, soggy spring caused me to underestimate the importance of getting out there to water the fuchsia that hung from the shepherd’s crook by the stone. I removed it in July, shriveled, brown and twiggy, and so lightweight with the dryness that it jerked upward when I lifted it with too much force, expecting more weight.
Before the picnic, we went to the big-box hardware that has a good garden department. I wanted to get him a new hanging basket to ride out the summer, and a new shrub to replace the rose. As we browsed, a monarch butterfly kept landing on plants in front of us, as if making suggestions. When we came to the butterfly bushes, there were several monarchs flitting around our heads and enjoying the shrubs named for them. Angelic Daughter noticed they kept landing on specific bushes, and staying to enjoy the fragrance and the pollen, I suppose. We bought a dark pinkish-purple butterfly bush, and a hanging basket of impatiens that matched that color exactly. Back home I loaded the shovel and some gloves, then we picked up salads from our usual spot, and headed out to the cemetery.
The breeze made it difficult to spread the blanket, but I used its direction to help, and we enjoyed a quiet half hour under the willow, lunching while gazing at the new plants and decorations Mike’s eternal neighbors had received from their loved ones since the last time we were there. After lunch, I dug out the failing rose bush, and, predictably, stabbed myself with its thorns, right through the gloves. I planted the butterfly bush and hung the impatiens. I lugged four gallons of water over from the pump.
Two more gallons to rinse the stone, and highlight his name and his title, “Father.” That was his job, and he loved it, and it’s perfect to have on the stone to describe him.
I talked to him, and told him how much we both miss him. I asked him to try to find a way for her to really feel he is with her.
On the way home from her job Monday, we talked about missing him. “A day without Dad. I miss Dad. He can’t come back.” Repeated at least twenty times through the day, through most of our days now, her last grains of hope and disbelief slowly dissolving into certainty, finality, consumed by the permanence of loss.
I told her again it was OK to be sad, but Dad wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time. Hypocrite. Inside I was feeling my own extreme loneliness, and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, a trick that keeps me from crying.
As we pulled into the garage, I noticed the song on the radio was “You Are Not Alone.”
You are not alone
I am here with you
Though you’re far away
I am here to stay
Lately I’ve been changing the channel when a Michael Jackson song comes on. Just can’t, anymore. But we listened to this one. I relaxed my tongue and had my tears.
Anniversaries are so hard; marking them with rituals probably makes it worse. This time, though, was more about how remembering, yearning for and missing him is a normal part of every day, not just anniversary days.
It finally rained, a good long soaking rain. Choir practice started last night. This choir has an uncanny ability to conjure precipitation. It always rains on Monday nights.
New phone for Angelic Daughter yesterday. New, substitute caregiver last night.
Sun today. But almost every sunny day has a few clouds.
The weight of this anniversary forced me to realize that this third year of widowhood was about accepting the normalcy of grief, and how carrying it and walking with it is permanently woven into each of our days, and will be in every day to come.
Tending the grave and talking to Mike as I did reminded me that grief can’t exist without love. If we walk with grief, love is walking right beside it, holding its hand. Balanced, but too subdued. I hope this walk will lead us someday to peace, even back to joy.
Until then, I remain, your hollow yet hopeful