She is dead.
She is gone. No amount of wishing, dreaming, hoping, pretending will bring her back.
For 13 years I was secretly keeping bits of her alive. If I could just take care of those, nurture them enough, be responsible enough, I would keep her here with me.
But she slowly slipped away, seeped through my fingers, until I finally understood that my imagined task to keep her with me was impossible.
She is dead. She is gone. And she isn’t coming back. It’s not my fault. It’s not my choice. But it is true.
I kept her alive. Her body, the part everyone could see, died long ago. When it was time for that to happen I was brave. I was accepting. I sat with her, with my family, as we watched her go. We grieved her death and our lives moved on.
But secretly, I kept her alive. I wore her sweaters. I walked in her shoes. I displayed her frog. I kept her jewelry. And most importantly, I watered her plant.
The whole thing is silly, I know that. She never even saw the plant. It was from her funeral – she was dead before someone even ordered the damn plant. But I carried that plant across country with me. I bought a big, sturdy, beautiful pot to put it in. And I kept her alive.
For years I tended it. Watered it. Cut back dead leaves. It ended up living in a dark corner of the dining room – not an ideal spot for a plant, but it was BIG and we didn’t have any good places to put it. I even joked about it with my sister. That plant was the most “adult” thing in my life. Other friends had gone on to take care of children and have successful careers, but me? Me? Well, I had kept a plant from my mom’s funeral alive for a decade.
And that wasn’t an easy task. We leave town for long periods and our poor plants basically have to fend for themselves. I water the hell out of them before we go and cross my fingers. Sometimes I ask someone to come in once or twice and tend to them, but most of the time I just cross my fingers and hope they survive. And for years that one did.
But now it’s dead.
I couldn’t accept that it was gone. I let it sit, dead, in that pot for quite some time before admitting I had failed. The piece of her, the LIVING PIECE I had squirreled away, that I could see everyday… I killed it.
Knowing that Mary Day, the anniversary of her death, was coming up, I decided that I needed to confront this all. Examine my feelings. Put some closure on the connection, as ridiculous as it may seem to others, that I had with that plant.
I had David help me carry the heavy planter out to the porch. I couldn’t do it right away – I had to leave it out there a few days while I considered it. Then, one afternoon, I unearthed that dead plant. I took it out. I threw it away. It felt like I was throwing a part of HER, my mother, away. But I did it. I let it go.
And I bought a new plant. A big, shiny, healthy, beautiful plant. It was hard to choose which one to get, but I finally picked one and lifted it into my shopping cart. And wouldn’t you know, as I pushed it around the store, a couple of people, complete strangers, said, “Wow, what a pretty plant!” and “That plants is gorgeous! It looks so healthy”. Of course they didn’t understand the significance of it all. To them it was just a plant. But their simple, kind words kept me moving in the right direction.
I cleaned up the big pot, and I planted the new plant. Turns out I planted it too high and every time I watered it, dirt and water poured down the side. So, like so much in life, I had to admit I needed help and ask David to assist. One afternoon we took it out of the big pot, rearranged, and gently lowered it back in.
So far it is healthy. It is living.
But it isn’t part of my mom. It is just a plant. A pretty, green, living thing. It, too, will die. I rather doubt it will tough it out as long as the other plant did. But when it dies, I won’t be as sad as I was when the other plant died. When this one dies, it won’t be my failure and it won’t mean me giving up on tightly held last strands of her.
As the years go on and her life fades more and more, the tangible pieces of her I cling to also disappear. Her shoes that I wear disintegrate on my feet. Her sweaters in my closet get moth holes. The terra cotta frog of hers has cracked and broken. Someday I will lose her necklaces. And I will try to remind myself that it is not my fault. That guilt is inappropriate. That the physical is unimportant.
The plant is dead.
I am learning. Learning to keep her alive in my mind, in my memories, in my dreams, and not in things.
I love you Mom.