Flecks of gray polish remain on two of my toenails. The rest of the polish has chipped off over the past nine weeks. I don’t want to take it off; the polish should stay there until it disappears all by itself. I put it on the day of my mother’s funeral. I’m not eager for it to go away.
The orchid started to lose its flowers this week. For more than two months, its branches have been filled with crisp and healthy flowers, elegant and white. I’ve never had the patience to grow or maintain orchids. They require too much care; I need a plant that calls for only sun and occasional water—not much of me. But orchids are needy and demanding; they require attention. There were, however, a perfect fit for my mother, who grew dozens of them, carefully urging the flowers to bloom long after anyone else would think the orchid dead. This orchid is the only one of hers I have; I gave the others to her friends in the days after her funeral. I hate that I have this one in my house; it should be with her. She should be taking care of it, not me.
My mom had dozens and dozens of plants in her house, the orchids were one of the many kinds she nurtured over the years. One day, years ago, a neighbor kid walked in the house, saw her plants, and exclaimed, “It’s a jungle in here!”
She had 10 green thumbs and endless patience for growing things. I’ve killed cacti without any effort. In retrospect, the lack of effort is probably why I killed those cacti.
Now, though, I’ve inherited several of my Mom’s plants. And it stresses me out. What if that beautiful Christmas cactus she loved so much dies? It’s in my kitchen, and even though it’s budding little pink flowers—a sign it’s doing well—I could kill this plant at any moment. And what about those other plants I took from her house? The ones she loved. They are a reminder of her, of course, and I love them for that. They make me feel that she’s with us. She’d laugh if she knew I had them. “You have to water plants for them to live, Kimberly!” she’d say.
“How are you?”
In the weeks since my mother died, I get asked this a lot. People ask with their heads titled to the side, questioning, curious. The question is respectful and said with kindness. My answer is the same: “I’m okay.”
That’s the truth. Okay. Sometimes, I’m fine—which, in my book, is a step up from okay. Sometimes, I’m not okay or fine at all.
[A digression: I had a funny conversation with G this morning. “Mommy, are there are more words like OK?”
“What do you mean ‘words like OK’?” I asked.
“Words where the letters are the word,” she explained.
It was too early in the morning to access my internal dictionary so I tried a different tactic. “Some people spell OK as O-K. Other people spell is o-k-a-y.”
Mind blown, she stared at me, at a loss for words—which never happens.]
I’m okay, I believe, because I have a family that needs me to be okay, and that makes me grateful. They are a life raft amid the never ending waves of grief.
A dear friend sent me an email the other day with a picture of a medal and a note that said, “…you seem to be managing it all as thoughtfully and productively as you always have. From my perspective you are one of those rare women who is truly doing and having it all! You deserve a medal from your family, your colleagues, and probably your friends.”
I responded with “The medal is lovely, but truly, I am just trying to keep from drowning.”
She replied a picture of a life raft. Which was perfect. I need that now, and really, everyone, no matter if they are facing the loss of a loved one or not, needs a life raft from time to time.
This post is titled Part 1 because, I think, I’ll be writing more about grief here on Red Shutters. I’m working through what that means and what shape that will take. Thanks for being here.