Monday, November 10, 2008

purple roses

The coffins were in the basement. The stairs down there were carpeted with a thick underpad but the steps were narrow and steep, and I was six months pregnant. Upright coffins lined the walls, while others lay, open, on stands in the middle of the floor. There were shiny white melamine ones, which I thought were horrible, and many wooden ones, all shiny, except for an unfinished pine number that they kept a little hidden. My mom remembered her client, the one who had no family. He lived alone in an old farm house, rich from development deals, although you'd never it know it from his life or home. The executor of his estate refused to pay for a decent coffin, so the old man was buried in one of those pine coffins. Only my mom, her colleague, and the old man's neighbour attended. It was shameful, she always said. In fact, it was this very funeral director who carried out the executor's instructions, despite his own misgivings. That's how my mom met him; they ranted together about the injustice of it.

I'd never helped pick out a coffin before. It was easy to narrow it down to two, but hard to choose between them. I think we ended up with a cherry one, of a similar colour to my grandpa's old bedroom set, now in my bedroom. But I can't remember for sure.

My mom was an only child, so she could only look to her own children for help in carrying out the myriad tasks involved with burying her last parent. Her mother, my grandma Ruth. My sister and I picked out flowers for the arrangements.

Everything my grandma brought into her house was pink or purple, almost exclusively. Mauve was her very favourite colour. Yvonne, the village florist, remembered my grandma from her visits. When my sister and I came, she pulled out a bucket of the most perfect roses from the fridge with the sliding glass doors. Mauve or lilac, I don't know what the difference between them would be, except lilac sounds so much nicer, like spring instead of mauve's retirement homes. The roses were just perfect, barely open. I'd never before seen roses this colour, and haven't since either. Like they were grown just to honour my grandma's passing.

I can't remember what outfit we picked out for her. I remember having two or three options, and I remember being sad that they seemed so much more grave than the outfits she wore when I was a kid on summer vacation, before the strokes and the car accident and all her friends dying. I think we went with a lilac cardigan that had embroidered flowers in one corner. We even had to bring a bra and panties to the funeral home, which seemed somehow obscene. Although I guess when I think about it, the folks at the funeral home had already been more intimate with her body; putting on her underwear and fastening her bra would be nothing to them.

All this was just so impossibly mundane, all this dealing with the earthly. It would be so much simpler if all of her had just floated away. Except of course, we'd keep hoping, waiting for her to come back, if we didn't have the body to focus on, the body that was so obviously not her anymore.

* * *

I kept two of those roses, the ones that seemed to have been grown just for my grandma. I hung them in the basement when we got home, next to the musty old red rose from my grandpa's funeral less than a year before. I'd never dried flowers before, but I took a guess, and wrapped the stems with an elastic band, and hung them from a nail sticking out of the low rafter. I didn't know what to do with them, where to put them more permanently. I only noticed them when they tickled my hair on the way to the laundry tub.

* * *

The night before our moving day, Swee'pea was in bed. I was packing in our kitchen and Sugar D was clearing out the basement. He came upstairs to ask me what to do with those roses, and I said I'd go down to take care of them. But I never did. I forgot. If the movers didn't knock their petals flying, then surely the new owners have cleared them out. They looked like death anyways.

* * *

ANYA: (crying) I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's, (sniffling) there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid. (still teary) And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.

I was reminded of those abandoned roses while watching "The Body," which is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. All that silence. And Anya's speech, that speech made me love her and her ex-demon-ness more than ever. Then, in "Forever," when Buffy has to choose a coffin, that room looked just like the basement room in my memory. I watched those episodes early in October, and I decided to write a post for my grandma on Halloween, the third anniversary of her death. But any time I've had a moment to myself in the last few weeks, I had no words left for anything. So here we are, 10 days late.


Mad said...

I almost can't comment on this and I think you know why. I've been faced with those decisions too and I am not yet ready to revisit them.

Mimi said...

What a beautiful post, Sin, and so sad. Thank you for sharing this.

Kyla said...

Gorgeous and sad, Sin.

zoom said...

That was beautifully written, Sin.

Bon said...

this was beautiful, Sin...and you know those roses you dried weren't for Ruth, but for you. with time, memory grows beyond mementos.

if i were to be buried, i'd like a nice pine box. i think it's a shame that the ostentatious culture of death has made them shameful.