Yesterday was the first anniversary of my mum’s death. It’s been 366 days since I last saw her, spoke to her, heard her voice, felt her arms around me. 366 days versus the 10,688 I was blessed to have her in my life. I have felt her absence on every one of those days and it still doesn’t feel real that she’s gone.
Last year we scattered her ashes in a river where she had spent many happy summers as a child. We returned there yesterday and threw some flowers into the water. It was a calm day so the current wasn’t strong. Most of the flowers flowed gently downstream and became lodged at the tops of the small stone dams that produce tiny waterfalls along the length of the river.
Two of them, red roses, became separated from the others and floated over to where I was standing on the riverbank. One rose was in full bloom, beautiful and vibrant, but the other had tipped over, its stem reaching for the sky while its petals languished in the water beneath it.
The ripples of the river caused the flowers to slowly circle each other. They remained in each other’s orbits for a few minutes, the light breeze gradually pulling them apart until, with gentle grace, the open rose floated away from the other and headed downstream. The remaining rose, kept off balance by its upright stem, bobbed in place for a short time, before the current pushed it underneath the riverbank into the dark where I couldn’t see.
When my mind is overwhelmed by difficult emotions, it seeks meaning in metaphor and symbolic interpretations of the things I perceive. As I was watching the flowers – one with petals open, floating serenely; the other, upturned, petals obscured, drowning – I couldn’t help but see the effect my mum’s death has had on me.
Though decades too soon, my mum accepted the finality of her diagnosis and came to the end of her life with grace and serenity. Like the rose floating from the other’s side, my mum slipped away from me quietly, peacefully, leaving my life turned upside down and pushing me into a darker place where I couldn’t make sense of anything.
My mum ended the first of the five letters she left for me with the words, ‘nothing stays the same’. As I was watching the roses floating together, I knew they wouldn’t stay together. Their separation was inevitable. The river’s current would pull them away from each other just as the passage of time pulls people apart. We only share our lives with our loved ones for a finite period of time before they, or we, have to move on. It’s an undeniable, and often heart-breaking, fact of life.
I didn’t stay long enough to watch what happened to that upturned rose but, as sure as I am that time will continue to pass, I’m sure that the current will eventually bring it back out into the sun, petals facing the sky, and guide it downstream.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does teach us how to live with them.