(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.
Beautiful writing, Megan. You have a way of drawing us into the scene, right there in the car, the graveyard, both emotionally and visually.
Just gorgeous. lovely lovely post.
Megan, my eyes get wet every time I read this. Thank you.
Sally Clark says
You loved her so well, Megan! You touch my heart and you bless my heart, too!!!
As I read this, I was right there with you, each step and feeling your love. Your gifts of nature were from your heart and so much better than store bought flowers. They were Megan and that is what is precious to her. I can just see her doing exactly what you did with the “aspen” leaf–praying for God to show her just the right one. That is so what she would have done and loved. I Love you sweet girl.
Megan. Wow. That leaf…
Sandra Heska King says
Oh, Megan. I have no words for this, but I feel the rain on my face.
I love what you saw in the photo that you didn’t see at the moment–and the bushes around that gravesite. That takes my breath away.
Wow. I don’t know what else to say. Just taking this in …. breathtaking.
Patricia Hunter says
So very hard, yet so very beautiful.
Oh….my. All I could think of is when my own Mom passes. Much too painful to think about, even though I know she will be waiting for me in Heaven…..I know I will feel much the same as you here in this piece. Beautiful yet so sad, you captured the sting of death perfectly.
Beautiful, touching and just the way I know I will feel when my own Mom passes…..excruciating is the sting of death. I know it too well. Lori
Nancy Franson (@nancyfranson) says
Yes. Whenever you find a miracle Aspen leaf, you must take a picture of it. There’s really nothing else to be done.
Love this. Love you.
Cheryl Hyatt Smith says
My father passed away in 1983, my mom in 2006. I’ve visited their grave sites only a couple of times. I took pictures too. Odd in a way, except for the whole chronicle-everything piece that is heightened because of this online world in which we live and relate. Your words, they comfort me.
Ann Kroeker says
Quiet. Honest. Real.
Beverly Holcomb says
As I read this beautiful account of your visit, I realized your words drew me in
so completely that I was right there with you…..and overcome with emotion as
I relive the times I have been to “see” her as well. You will be in my heart all
week long, Megan……..and I send you so much love—–and thanks—-for the
S. Etole says
Deeply touched by this.
Dayna DeLaVergne says
I wanted to sob with you…thanks for being so vulnerable.
Lyla Willingham Lindquist says
Love you, Megan.
Ohh… such an intimate place you took us… such a precious gift that you would share this time, your words with us. I can see the photo without you even posting it.
Linda Chontos says
This is so touching, so raw with your pain and loss. I am weeping with the girl who so lovingly found just the right things. Writing becomes something very special when it comes right from the heart.
David @ Red Letter Believers says
The emotions we feel for our parents all tend to coalesce around dates or events . And like you, I hold on to those little things — like leaves — as precious memories
Michelle DeRusha says
So beautiful, so holy, Megan. I am blessed to have read this today. Love you, girl.
I can feel the wet on my own clothes, Megan. And I can feel the rawness of this as that anniversary looms here very soon. Praying for you as you walk through it and thanking you for sharing this tender, detailed description of your deep, deep love for your mom. Love you.
What a lovely, lovely visit you had. I’m still thinking about a quote of Mark Twain’s that I read in my Buechner book the other day. It was after his daughter died and he said it was like a house burning down. It would take years and years to discover all that he’d lost.
Sam Van Eman says
Megan, it strikes me how we have these conversations about the little things–a leaf and even its placement. So small and so meaningful at the same time. You’ll appreciate this visit for a long time, I think.