My mum died 10 years ago today. This marks the eleventh spring she has missed if you include the year she died, which I do.
It feels impossible that an entire decade has passed, impossible that she has missed so much. And yet, here we are at eleven springs.
I count the years in springs partly because she died in May, but also because spring was her very favourite season. Spring was ordering soil and mulch and starting the process of turning the backyard into a garden paradise. Spring was cleaning out the pond, filling it, and putting the little ceramic frogs and cast iron turtles on the edge. Spring was trips to the garden centre for pansies and geraniums, tomato and strawberry plants. Spring meant pulling out the patio furniture and flying the ladybug flag from the big maple tree. Spring had it all.
Spring is vibrant. When I spoke at mum’s wake, I talked about her love of colour, her vibrancy, how she loved brightness and colour everywhere. Everywhere, it must be said, except for her walls. There, only variant shades of cream and beige would do, but in all other aspects of her life, colour and lots of it reigned supreme.
Spring brings with it an abundance of colour and sometimes it has a slower-paced start, much like it’s doing this year, with cool temperatures helping preserve the magnolia flowers and allowing the tulips to open quietly and for a longer span of time. In other years spring seems to arrive almost immediately, urgently, with a brilliance, an incredible wash of colour everywhere, flowers opening and wilting in nearly the same breath. Such was the spring the year she died.
Towards the end of April ten years ago, I drove mum to the hospital for more tests, and these tests were the ones that gave us – finally – the diagnosis of advanced cancer, unknown primary, possibly lung. It was about to be the beginning of the end, we just didn’t know it yet. On the way there, weak and slumped in the passenger seat of my car, she watched out the window and commented on the brightness of the world as we drove along.
“Everything is so fresh and green, do you see that? It’s like technicolour. And the lilacs are out, too, did you notice? That’s odd, they usually come closer to the end of May, everything is happening so early. And the city looks so clean and beautiful it’s all so green and bright and doesn’t it seem more like summer than spring?” And on and on throughout our fifteen-minute trip.
Her thoughts were jumbled as she took in the scenery but her words have stayed with me. It was the most she had spoken for over a week, talking took such effort. But this wonder, this seeing the world almost as if for the first time was so thrilling to me. It felt like hope. The world was showing off and waking up and maybe that was the sign that she would, too.
I didn’t know then that it would be the last time she would be able to say more than a few words to me, I didn’t know that it would be the last time she’d see trees and lilacs and tulips, or any of the world outside.
But she was right. There was something about that spring. Everything bloomed early, everything was big and showy and blossoming way ahead of its typical time. It was unusual but it was perfect, and I held on to those images; the brightness, the colours, the big blowsy flowers, the fat buds seeing me through.
Not long after she died I wrote this blog post and while I don’t return to it every year, I did this year. Ten years is significant, of course. I mean there are no traditional gifts for marking a death, there is no wood deathiversary or silver deathiversary, but still, a decade. A lifetime, nearly. Or at least it feels that way.
I return to that piece because I remember exactly how I felt writing it. I wrote it quickly without a lot of editing, it just needed to come out all at once. If I was writing it now, ten more years of writing experience, would anything have changed? Likely not.
The night she died is etched in my memory, and while I don’t know that I have all the details exactly right…no, wait, I do. I know I have the details exactly right. Like the thunderstorm that started as I left the hospital carrying my mother’s belongings. Quite the sendoff, indeed. And the feeling of emptiness as I sat in my car for a few minutes, just a few, before I collected myself and drove down to mum’s house to begin the organization of the things that needed organizing.
The next morning was glorious as it often is after a thunderstorm and before I did anything else I took my scissors out to the lilac tree I had planted the year we moved to this house and on the 6th of May, 2010 I was able to cut the biggest bunch of lilacs I had ever cut, a full three weeks earlier than usual.
Today, in the eleventh spring, I spent a lot of time looking out my window, appreciating the peonies and bleeding hearts just beginning to poke through the soil in my garden, and gazing expectantly at the tulips who are not quite ready to open just yet. I paid a short, chilly visit to my lilac tree whose buds still sleep for now. And it’s ok. Every spring is different, each is exactly what it needs to be. But I will be forever grateful that that final spring was, for my mum, exactly what she needed it to be.