When my father died, I knew I would metabolize my grief and honor his memory by being the best father I could be. When my mother died I knew suddenly what it really meant to feel like a motherless child. The path of transformation was not so obvious then. Maybe I am still looking for it. Maybe I’ve been on the path all along and have not yet learned to name it. Wherever it leads, it involves patience.
I planted a lilac over my mother’s ashes in the spring of her passing. I waited year after year for it to bloom. After seven years it did. In the eighth year, no flowers. A hard freeze may have nipped them in the bud. The lilac is a tree now, and a month ago when it began to lead I regretted that I hadn’t pruned it over the winter. I’d given up on its blooming. Then I walked into my garden yesterday morning before heading off to work. That fragrance suffused the still, frosted air. The lilac tree was crowned with pale blue flowers, a brilliant foil to the white flowering crab apple shimmering beyond it.
The cultivar is called Abraham Lincoln. I chose it with nostalgia for my grandfather’s Mr. Lincoln roses, and Walt Whitman’s poem. My mother quoted that poem whenever she cut lilacs in the spring:
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night–O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d–O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless–O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle–and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou wouldst surely die.)
Read more: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.