Its official: I killed it.
I don’t know how I did it, and it defies my care for it, and the fact that all my other various potted plants and tree (yes, tree!) remain alive after years of my stewardship, but Adahlia’s dahlia plant is most certainly dead.
It is very upsetting.
I selected the said purple and white plant while mightily pregnant, 5 days past my due date, and the day before Adahlia was born.
I had notions of them growing up together. It spent last winter hibernating and I potted it when last year the slugs threatened to eat every struggling shoot that came up. On her first birthday, it was in full bloom. They enjoyed a beautiful summer together.
I left it out as the freeze came (just as I did the year prior) and it went brown and dormant, or so I thought. We packed up and moved in February. And a week or so ago, as I transferred the pot to the new backyard, I poked at its tuber-like root with my finger. To my horror, the root collapsed like a mushy, wet paper bag.
No life in there.
Of course, I can (and we will) buy another Dahlia. It wont, of course, have the same sentimental value.
And then I think: Do I really want a plant with that much sentimental value? As we move from place to place, and crazy heat waves and ice storms blow through, would I really want to have to worry about its life? Lets say 10 years from now the neighbor forgets to come water the plants while we are on vacation… and then it dies? Imagine the anger, the frustration! Or Adahlia goes off to college, and moves into a home of her own, is she obliged to take it with her? Or do I hold onto this plant until I’m creaky and pouring it water from shaky hands?
Perhaps the question is: At what point does a sweet token of remembrance become a pain-in-the-arse obligation?
Perhaps we are better off without it, I tell myself.
And then I think:
Hey, at least I didn’t accidentally kill Adahlia.
And then there’s the ridiculous moment of panic when I wonder if they are connected, and if the plant dies, then Adahlia dies!
And the following thought: Maybe they had the opposite connection, and now that the plant is dead, she will get better.
And then I acknowledge the fact that it was a lovely plant, and yet, just a plant. While perhaps they shared a connection, it certainly won’t pull Adahlia over to health or death. And while I’m sad its gone, but it was a beautiful way to mark her life.
Adahlia did enjoy her plant — I would lift her up to the blossom and show her how to sniff. I would point out the colors and teach her sign language for ‘beautiful.’ It was a wonderful token.
Perhaps now we will go pick out a Dahlia of a different color, different bloom, together. Perhaps I’ll do some research to see where I went wrong. And we’ll see how long we can get this one to live.
Every year, in Spring, there are blooms that do not rise. Every year, there are some that don’t survive the winter.
It’s the part of Spring that we don’t often see, because we prefer to focus on the bulbs that survive. Always, always, life and death are interwoven. And yet, we shy from death and turn like sunflowers towards the living. When forced to look at it, we grieve it. We shudder. We can accept it – barely – when it doesn’t happen directly to us. We certainly don’t often celebrate it.
I am thinking of these things when I get a phone call from my mother.
Adahlia’s great-grandma was just diagnosed with a malignant cancer. She’s over 92 years old, and the death from this particular cancer is painless. Entirely painless. Doctors say she will lose weight, she will lose her appetite, and she will get weaker. But she will have all her faculties and she will feel no pain. Then, one night, she will simply die in her sleep.
Of course, its sad that her time on earth draws to a close. But I am no good at providing the typical comfort, the condolence, because the truth is that I think its actually wonderful. After all, we all have to die. If you love someone, what more can you wish for them? A full life, hopefully happy and fulfilling (but if not, that’s on each of our own shoulders), and to die painlessly at a very old age, with plenty of time to say goodbye? Especially if you believe in life after death, or are a person of faith, or have experienced something to inspire peace with what comes after death. Depending upon your belief, your loved one will be free to visit and support you in a much more vibrant capacity, without the aches and pains of old age. Its a transition, sure, but in such cases, isn’t it more of a call to celebrate a full and lucky life, and not a cause for mourning?
Or, in our culture, are we simply that far from being able to accept loss?
Perhaps watching Adahlia walk hand-in-hand with death — me holding one hand, death holding the other — never knowing when she’s going to get pulled over to the other side, and hearing from the other DBA parents about their own kids seeming fine one day, and in the hospital the next, and then dying, has made me had to look at little closer at death. Forced me to examine it. Forced me into something of an acceptance of it. Forced me to turn towards the shadows and look at it — one solitary sunflower staring into the fog.
Perhaps it’s youthful, ignorant, and selfish, but there is a part of me that just doesn’t see the tragedy in a painless death at old age – the tragedies are the horrific deaths, the agonizing ones, the ones that happen before you get a chance to make amends or say goodbye, the ones that happen to children, and teenagers, and young parents, leaving people alone or helpless, with gaping wounds and questions. And so I don’t think its youthful, ignorant, or selfish of me to regard my grandmother’s portentous news as a cause for more connection, more celebration, more conscious appreciation of her life until she leaves, and then celebrating some more. I think its wise to acknowledge blessings when they are given. To die in one’s old age painlessly is a true blessing… one that I would consider myself lucky to receive.
And yet, loss is loss.
But that just begs more questions. Why can’t we celebrate death? And not just when a person has lived a long life. Why can’t we celebrate death at any age? Might that actually make life easier?
We don’t celebrate loss and we can’t celebrate death because we don’t understand it. We don’t know what – if anything – happens after.
I think of the recent news article of the couple that died within minutes of each other, in separate locations, with neither of them knowing that the other had died.
They were connected in some way. And it had nothing to do with mourning the loss of the other and being unable to go on, or of being afraid of death. One left, and then the other.
Now, to me, that makes sense. Why wouldn’t folks come and go together? If, after all, we are here to learn and play together, it makes sense to do it with your best soul friends. Learn a few lessons together, get some hard knocks, and a bunch of laughs. Gotta report back at the astral plane when its time to go, might as well do it together. Maybe then sign up to do it all again together. (Or maybe not. Depending on if you lean more towards Buddhism or Christianity.)
I had a set of zebra finch once, little birds, and one died the day after the other. Virus? Possibly. Heart-broken? Maybe. (Though she used to pull the feathers out of his neck, so I’m not quite so certain he wouldn’t have enjoyed living alone for awhile.) Or were they connected in some other way?
With Adahlia nearing yet another transfusion, the big questions are on my mind. And I think of my upcoming surgery. (Its a bigger deal then the past ones, and I’m not going to go into it, here). I found it very hard to accept the fact that felt like I might die last year, when Adahlia was so little. What about now? Do I feel more okay with that possibility now than I did last year? If so, why?
And, as more reports on another little girl with DBA fighting for her life due to complications from the illness flood my phone… what about Adahlia? Is it okay if she dies? As a race, we always find the death of infants and children tragic and upsetting. But every breath Adahlia takes is borrowed. Can I accept that fact? Can I learn to breathe into my belly again, to shift out of the fight-or-flight stress response? To look at her and see — without the illusion so nicely provided by rosy cheeks — how temporary we are? Can I learn to not only accept it, but to thrive and laugh in it?