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The Death of Our Flowers

...Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?
Alas! they all are in their graves, the gentle race of flowers
Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of ours.
The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November rain
Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again(William Cullen Bryant, “The Death of the Flowers”)...

It's been two years five months and twenty-one days since my aunt lost her battle with cancer. I suppose you could say its been a bumpy road for me since then. She was my godmother after-all. Sometimes I'll reach for the phone just to ask her a simple question, I'll even hold the phone to my ear for awhile listening to the dial tone before I remember that there will never be an answer at the other end. Not ever. Sometimes I sit there for a long time listening to that dial tone as it turns to an annoying beep. I sit there as the woman says over and over in a canned voice "If you'd like to make a call..." Her words hold no meaning. As words often do when I think of my aunt.

There is no solace, no comforting blanket to the harsh reality of her absence. Only the empty seat on the cooler where she used to sit at family gatherings. She never used a chair. She always sat on that same cooler, a quiet observer, a watchful eye. On occasion, if you managed to catch her gaze, you could see that mischievous smile and the cunning gleam in her eye that made her the most unique member of our family. I miss her non-traditional family gatherings on Christmas eve. When we opened presents early and enjoyed bowls upon bowls of her famous chili. The recipe just isn’t the same anymore. The true spice in it seems to have become bland and lifeless.

I can remember seeing her in that hospital bed, all hooked up to tubes, breathing mechanically, and I just wanted to shake her and tell her it wasn’t funny anymore. I remember our campsite outside of her room in the ICU. I had rushed home directly from the field at marching band camp at UMASS my freshman year. I was sunburned and soaked with sweat. Completely unconvinced that anything could’ve been so wrong. My hair tied back in playful pigtails and my heart still pounding to the band's rhythms that I didn’t notice the severity in my relatives faces. They didn’t even let me in the room at first. My mom took me aside, speaking gently, her tone at first so quiet I didn’t realize what she was saying. The news struck me hard then. I did something you’re never supposed to do in the ICU. I burst into sobs louder than I’ve ever heard from anyone. They didn’t even seem to come from me, but from someone who lived inside of me. Someone so sad I ached for them. I was escorted from the ICU and led to an empty stairwell. I think I’m still there, the person who I was at that point in my life refused to leave the stairwell to the realization that her favorite aunt would never again wake up. She couldn’t handle it so I left her there. In her vacant space a shell began to grow. A shell that softens three times a year in case she wants to come back or in case she finds the way to turn back time and erase what has been carved into history.

Three times a year when the shell is weak I allow myself to think of my aunt in such a way that her life seeps through. The first of those three times is in the summer, on the first of July, her birthday. The second time of year is September seventh, the day she died. The third time of year is in March when the American Cancer Society sells daffodils. This is because I figure if they (the American Cancer Society) can save even one life because of donantions made through their daffodil drive then its worth all my pain. I would gladly exchange all my happiness so that someone else’s loved one could live. So, every year I take $10-$12 and I buy a bunch or two of daffodils. A tidy sum of money for a college student living on her own, but enough that I feel like I’ve given back to a family like my own that is struggling to hold on to their most vivid and lively member.

I’m not soliciting. I don’t work for the American Cancer Society. I don’t want your money. Don’t send your donations to me. But if you see people selling these bright bunches, please pick one up, you never know whose life or sanity you could save.

...And then I think of one who in her youthful beauty died,
The fair meek blossom that grew up and faded by my side.
In the cold moist earth we laid her, when the forest cast the leaf,
And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief:
Yet not unmeet it was that one like that young friend of ours,
So gentle and so beautiful, should perish with the flowers.(William Cullen Bryant, “The Death of the Flowers”)

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