I have kept your amaryllis. The one you tended into six buds opening to bloom in your hospital room. The bulb you watered with the pitcher on your bedside tray table and carried to the window, breaking the rules for fall risk patients, to take in the daylight, long as you were able. How good it is to remember you smiling at your amaryllis and saying, “It’s always praying for me.” I wish I’d been there when you insisted that your blossom-heavy plant go in the stretcher to hospice with you. I wish I’d been there to witness you say, “This is like a funeral.”
It’s good to remember you shaking up the dust-to-dust way of letting death be. You were ready when your time came. But I like to imagine you still embering, still alight around the edges.
Today is Ash Wednesday. If you’d been able to stay longer on this side of dying, I would ask if you want ashes. We could make our own: We could burn dead leaves. You showed me how strong they can be: how their veins arc inward with the edges, a rib cage holding their shapes: a spade, a spear, a boat. A brown-gold leaf floating and serene, moving with the river, as you said of your grandmother who visited your dreams. We could remember her together. We could kindle this holding and letting go. We could make a fire in the snow, one of those last wishes you didn’t get. When your liver shut down, was it like a switch? I’m so sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye to your kids, or even go to the river one last time. What to do with this grief over what happened to you? I don’t know, so I’m making a ritual.
You were so alive while you were dying. Your amaryllis stood witness, leaning with the weight of its own blooms as you drew your last breaths. I brought it home after, precious cargo shedding petals in my back seat.
I transplanted the bulb and watched the blooms pass weeks after you, drooping until they fell, as if by invisible parachute, back to the soil. I let them rest and dry, under the long leaves still greening with light.
Tonight, I’ll burn the dead flowers.
I’ll imagine us with our grandmothers gathered by a fire.
And while the dry blooms ember into ash,
I’ll sit with the shadows of your living plant
and incantprayers that stir and settle like the dust of us.
Thank you for giving me this lit vigil
to witness you incandesce ever after death.
Ashley Makar works with refugees in Connecticut. She does community outreach for IRIS--Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, in New Haven. She has an e-book of essays, You Were Strangers: Dispatches from Exile. Ashley has published essays in Tablet, The Birmingham News, The Struggle Continues (the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute weblog), Religion Dispatches, and The New Haven Register.