by Nancy Miller
Spring is already here again, the sixth one since my daughter Rachel died on Christmas night, 2008 of a drug overdose. It’s one of those seasons that smells of renewal, life moving forward, death falling away, and the whole world is reborn. But those of us who are continually grieving don’t find solace in spring…it often accentuates our heartache, magnifying the feelings of loss and yearning. That wanting, wanting and never having again. The emptiness, the ever-present longing.
This last weekend my husband took me to a nursery to buy annuals to plant in our garden. A simple and fun journey that we look forward to every spring. When we got there, I wandered in and out of the aisles of flowers, and into a gift shop that had angels and plaques for sale, saying, “Beloved Daughter.” People do this more frequently now, create shrines in their gardens commemorating the person who is lost to them, but it sent me spiraling like an out of control Frisbee. And not in a good direction. I felt lost, panic stricken. My husband found me and tried to calm me down.
We chose some periwinkle flowers, Rachel’s favorite color. When we got to check out, the woman checking the flowers accidentally knocked one of the biggest blossoms off the stem and broke it. All I could see is Rachel’s color destroyed, her life destroyed, and I snapped at the woman with a viciousness I didn’t think I had in me. She was profusely apologizing and I knew in that moment that nothing could fix this. It wasn’t about the flower, it was about my grief, my missing daughter, the one I haven’t seen now for over five years, and the periwinkle blossom brought it all flooding back. How could this poor sales clerk know that? She couldn’t. I barely made it home and my husband, as always, didn’t say one word. He never does. I felt miserable, shell shocked, both at my still searing feelings of grief as well as the horrible way I treated the sales clerk.
This is the season that marks that time of year when life is brought into full focus again, vibrant, with all the fresh and perfume-like fragrances abounding. But for grievers, it doesn’t always offer a chance of renewal. Instead, we are reminded of our lost loved one, and unlike the sprouting buds and seeds, they are never coming back, and we are still here, reminded of time passing, seasons passing, milestone events passing, always passing.
My daughter’s best friend is getting married this month, too. She has invited me to the wedding. I said I’d go, but after the nursery trip, I am having second thoughts. Can I stand and watch this girl, who has been like a daughter to me, get married? Can I not think of Rachel and how she will never do this, have a child, have a life? I am questioning my ability to attend this event now. I will never see Rachel in that wedding gown, holding those flowers, hearing the music and watching her walk down the aisle.
I am at a crossroads. The pain is still wrenching, and I suspect for me it always will be. But at the same time, I believe in my heart that tragedy of this dimension can also be a catalyst for growth and personal evolution. I am a work in progress. Not there yet, but moving in that direction, hopeful that this life altering event, the death of my precious daughter, will illuminate my life, will give me the strength to get through anything, to give to others. Perhaps this spring, 2014, is the first time I begin to smell this growth. Just a seedling now, but beginning to sprout. I’m a slow growing flower, but even if it takes a lifetime to break ground, it will have been worth the journey.
About the Author: Nancy Miller has taught English and literature at the university and junior college levels since 1996, and served as managing editor for The Business Journal and Pacific Publishing Group in Fresno for more than six years. She currently teaches freshman composition at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington, where she lives with her husband, Randy. Write Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Griefland Website.
Read more stories by Nancy here.