(I wrote this on September 3, 2010, exactly six months after my mom died. It is still the only time I’ve visited her gravesite.)
So I came. I called John from the road. He told me to go and to be sure and call Jenny Kay, which I’ve done. We’ll have lunch when I’m ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m in the car with my laptop. It’s raining. 71 degrees. North wind at 10 mph. It’s fall, Mom. You love fall.
I arrive at 9:52 a.m. It would have been sooner, except for the rain. But it’s the perfect rain — so light you hardly get wet, especially in a place like this, where there are trees everywhere.
I walk right to the spot in this outdoor columbarium, remembering walking there with her that Monday, February 22nd. She could hardly walk the paths. My dad had to help her up the steps. But she was so proud of where she would be buried. “Isn’t it pretty?” she said.
You should see it now, Mom.
I reach her stone and just sob. I thought I’d just be wistful or a bit teary, but this is real honest loud ugly crying. My hair is wet. My clothes are wet. My eyes are wet. I bend down and touch her name, carved into the limestone. I kiss my fingers and press them into the wetness puddling in “Mar. 3, 2010.”
I walk around and cry. I enter her grave from every pathway, so that I can see her stone from every angle. No matter how you look at it, her name is bigger than anyone else’s: Merry Nell Van Fleet Drummond. It fills the whole stone, which is shaped like the United States of America.
I tell her I’ll be back. I want to walk around this place she so carefully picked out.
And then I see that some kind, generous soul has left roses on a grave. And I burst into tears again. “Damn,” I think. “Mom would have remembered to bring flowers.”
And now, I’m a wreck. Because she always remembered to bring flowers, and I never remember to bring flowers.
I go back to her gravestone to apologize. But before I can, I notice a brown leaf on her grave. It’s not much. But I think she would like it.
I have an idea.
I walk around the area where she is buried, and I see the exact same type of bush that is planted by my kitchen window. I wish to heaven and earth I knew what it’s called, but I don’t. I do know it’s a NICE (Native Instead of Common Exotic). I bought two in September 2008, when she was beginning to get super sick. I wanted something that bloomed in the fall, her favorite season. This bush has purple berry clusters. I planted two, and by golly, those suckers are still alive. They are the first — the first — things I have ever planted in my entire life that lived.
And they’re all around her gravesite. They’re taller than I am.
I pick one small blossom. I place it between the “Van Fleet” and the “Drummond.”
“When you see this, think of me,” I say.
And I think of my dad because his name is on this stone, too. Waiting. Right now, only his birthday is carved into the rock. He is fly fishing in Colorado (possibly Wyoming) at this exact moment. He and Mom should be there together. They leave every Labor Day weekend. Today is Friday of Labor Day weekend. What would Dad want me to put on her grave?
I look up. There is a small oak tree right above her grave that is jam-pack covered with acorns. Some squirrel needs to find this place and get to work. I pull one acorn and its tiny branch and set it beside my father’s name.
“I miss you,” I say on his behalf.
I think that if Mom were with him, they’d be in Creede by now, and the aspens would already be turning gold. And if there is one thing she needs on her grave, by God, it’s an aspen leaf.
But I’m in Austin, Texas. It was 100 degrees a few days ago. There is no friggin’ way I’m going to find an aspen leaf.
“I’ll be right back,” I tell Mom.
I start walking around the cemetery. “I’m not asking for a miracle, Lord,” I say. “I know I’m not going to find an aspen leaf. But can you please help me find something that’s close? Can I at least find a leaf that’s golden? We can pretend it’s an aspen.”
And you know, God is good, because it wasn’t a few minutes later that I found a golden leaf. It’s about the same shape as an aspen. I pick up the leaf and look around just a little more, to confirm that I picked up the right miracle leaf, but I’m pretty sure.
I go back to her grave and set it above her “Merry Nell,” kind of halfway to my dad’s name.
“Wait a minute,” I tell her. “I need to get a picture.”
I quickly walk back to the car and get my cell phone. As I walk there and back, I think about how Mom was always driving me crazy by taking pictures, and here I am, doing the same thing. But she would want me to. If she had picked a berry cluster and an acorn and a miracle aspen leaf, she would want me to take a picture.
So I snap my photo in the rain, but it comes out clear.
“’Bye, Mom. I love you,” I say. I kiss the stone with my lips.
Back in the car, as I type this, I look at the photo. I can see now what I couldn’t see then — green ferns surrounding the stone, which is set in rich, black soil.
Happy fall, Mom.
I get back into my car. It starts to thunder and pour down rain.
She said goodbye.