“Go ahead. Arrange and rearrange the stones on top of your beloved’s grave. Keep arranging those stones for as long as it hurts to do it, then stop just before you really want to.
Put the last stone on and walk away.
Then light your candles to the living. Say your prayers for the living. Give your flowers to the living. Leave the stones where they are, but take your heart with you. Your heart is not stone. True love demands that, like a bride with her bouquet, you toss your fragile glass heart into the waiting crowd of living hands and trust that they will catch it.” Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me, p. 196.
There is no need to rearrange the stones on Vic’s grave. Our sons David and Anthony balanced granite and shale over his ashes in August 2008 and, even though the cairn looks precarious, it stands firm.
I follow most of Kate Braestrup’s advice and light my candles to the living. Prayers? Those too go to the living. Trust in living hands? That is coming, slowly, cautiously.
In 2009, my throat caught when I read Braestrup’s line, “Give your flowers to the living.” I did give my flowers to the living, but I couldn’t forget the dead. I remembered the life I expected to live with Vic, the Brandywine tomato juice that would drip down our chins, the Labrador retrievers we would raise, and the love we would share. I needed to honor that lost life and still do, but as years pass, I dedicate more flowers to the emergence of my new life.
This morning, I arranged the first gladiolas of the season on the flat shale over Vic’s ashes. Then I leaned into the stately red oak to feel the strength of our marriage and the life we created together, pressing my cheek into the rough bark and absorbing the power of the roots through the soles of my boots. Nearby, I visited a cluster of basswood trees that lean away from one another, creating an earthen circle between the trunks where I can stand. Here, I offered flowers and family prayers to the living—Anthony, David, David’s partner Liz, and me, plus anyone who joins us in the future. Here, at the basswood trees, I give thanks for my life as it rises from darkness into day.
In the garden, the gladiolas bloom profusely. Until fall, I’ll place long stems in the circle of the living family trees, but I’ll also lay a few crimson and coral glads on Vic’s cairn, remembering the strong foundation on which I stand. My new life emerges from the hard work and good love of what has passed, so I plan to remember what is gone while rejoicing for what lives on. For now, perhaps always, I offer my flowers to the living and the dead.
What sorts of simple or elaborate rituals have you created in your life? See my blog “Creating A Grief Ritual: Love, Loss and Continuing Bonds” for more ideas. The website Gratefulness.org has many articles about creating meaningful grief rituals. For example, Paul Bennett writes about a simple but powerful ritual in a chapter from his book, Loving Grief. Visit the bereavement section of my website or my other blogs, for more articles on managing loss.