This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of my friend Martha. It’s still so hard to believe that someone whose cup ranneth over with life is gone. The photos of her that have popped up on Facebook and our alumni magazine exude vitality and joy and hilarity that taunt death, in a way. But she’s still gone and we still grieve.
This Christmas my parents graced our whole family with a trip to Hawaii, which was wonderful and restorative, and the sprinkles of (let’s call it) family dynamics were few and far between.
On New Years Eve day, my sister-in-law, my nephew, my daughter and I went to a plumeria farm to pick flowers to make leis for the family as part of our New Years Eve festivities.
The kids loved it, and the flowers were beautiful, and our eco-hippie guide showed us his paintings (which we did not buy) and the coconut cups his son made ( which we did buy), and offered us poi and bananas. We made eight leis and went home. We rang in the new year in various time zones, and discovered that one can bear the weight and fragrance of a lei only so long before the sinuses clog up and the neck starts sweating.
New Year’s Day came and the leis began to wilt. We weren’t sure we could bring them back stateside but it seemed to me that to put them in the trash was a bit of a disservice. So I made a plan. Those who wanted would take the plumeria, freed from their strings, to the beach and toss them onto the waters, and remember those we lost.
In the end, only my husband and daughter joined me, mostly because they are good sports. My sister commented that I love ritual, but that comment was as close as she came to making it to the beach laden with flowers.
So in the surf we stood, my husband and daughter and I, and we began flinging flowers and shouting names over the roar of the waves.
Mike and Bud. Ann and Glen. Ruth and Owen. Beulah and Paul- the grandparents. Uncle George and Aunt Mimi and Uncle Jerry and Uncle Harry. Martha. My dear Martha. Gregg’s dear Carolyn. Marie and Dick, my friend’s parents, because if she had been there she would have been the first one on the beach. And the church people. “Mary!” My daughter shouted, and I added Hank. Janet and Wayne and Anne and John and Betsy and so many. It was great.
And then the plumeria all washed up on shore. Not the ritual I was going for.
You see, the flowers were supposed to go out to sea, in a Bobby Darrin sort of way – a reminder that our loves wait for us beyond the waves. But no. These loves washed up on the shore bedraggled and worse for the ritual.
Then I began to worry that in Hawaii it is illegal to throw anything into the pristine Pacific. “If anyone asks, we have no idea where these flowers came from,” I instructed my people.
I was disappointed, let down by my own petard. They looked so awful now, these pretty plumeria. Beat up, drowned. Dead.
But maybe that’s the point. Those who leave us are dead, and that is not pretty and they are not coming back. What’s left of them does sometimes wash up onto our lives, painful memories of the beauty or kindness or hilarity that are no more.
The next day I went down to the beach, and the flowers were gone, somewhere beyond the sea. Perhaps they have been gathered up, leis again, adorning our beloved a who are indeed waiting for us.