In the year and nine months since Jesse died I have focused primarily on where and what he is now — or I have remembered him as he was when he was with us, with much scouring of the past to understand what had happened. I prayed, I meditated, I developed a close relationship with the spiritual world. I even (recently) visited a spiritual medium and had a profound experience that leaves no doubt in my mind that Jesse lives and is in a good and happy place. Perhaps I will write about that at some point.
But there is another aspect of Jesse’s death that has been even harder to deal with: the aspect that began with the funeral and ended with the burial, a blur in my memory, a day I can hardly bear to think of, one of many days I spent feeling exactly like there was a dagger in my heart. At the same time, I am aware that the love shown by friends and family that day was a great light in the darkness. I will be forever grateful for all of those who showed up, called, sent cards, spent time talking, and prayed or us. No one could have made it less sad, but many people made the funeral a loving and beautiful testimony to Jesse’s life. Now his body, the body I gave birth to, lies in a grave at Holly Lawn Cemetery, a fact I have had a very difficult time coming to terms with.
To tell this difficult story, I turned to poetry. (Please don’t expect Shakespearean or Emily Dickinsonesque literary talent here. This is mere therapy.)
The first year, I didn’t go at all,
traumatized to oblivion by the horror
of burying my son, his grave stoneless,
a patch of scraggly earth with a sad plastic sign
his faded picture the only identification.
When a year had passed I went to the
florist, bought three grave vases and bouquets
of carnations and each time I returned
the flowers had died. It was hard to bear
that the grave was still unmarked.
“Please Lord,” I prayed, “Send money
to buy a tomb stone.”
And the money came – an unexpected bonus.
The bill came to the exact amount.
When the grave was 18 months old
they installed the stone engraved
with the date of joy and the date of grief.
I put live flowers there now. Only
a small pot will fit the marble vase
so I must water them daily.
I could not bear to find them dead.
The first, a pot of purple impatiens,
wilted and nearly died. I took it
home, watered and coaxed it
like an intensive care nurse.
It now flourishes and resides
in my garden where I call it the
Each week I visit the garden store across from
the cemetery. I buy a new potted flower.
The previous one I take home and give it a
place of honor in my garden because
through dark nights and scorching days
it has bravely stood beauty guard
at my son’s grave,
These days I walk along that row of graves,
along a gravel treeless lane,
avenue of early death, where families
had no time to plan the family plot.
They have become family to each other.
Some I have read about in the news —
the toddler who drowned in the pool,
the 22-year old honor student who
died of opioids,
the young man shot downtown.
Almost two years it has taken me
to emerge from the prison of my tragedy
and see the others.
Every time I hear of an overdose,
a suicide, a car accident, a shooting, a drowning,
cancer, or war, that line of graves extends
on and on until the marble stones fade into the horizon.
Desolate picture, the vibrant spirits gone.
Why do I put sweet flowers through the trial?
Why can’t I trust the birds to do it?
They are not trapped in a narrow pot.
Perhaps they do come by to check.
But why the flowers?
Because I am still in the flesh and
the year without going there was a shame.
Though his spirit is in joy now,
his life in that dear body
must be remembered as long as I am here.
Cut flowers wither too soon and
live flowers must be watered.