About a year ago I got a call from my brother one morning.
"Erin, we need you to come home now."
Our beloved father was quite ill. Cancer. He had battled, and lived, and loved this world and his people with a fierceness and beautiful contentedness that I can only aspire to. So many of you know this landscape of illness and precious clarity of purpose to be present as much as possible to the holy, dying time. You may also know the overwhelming, utter fear that comes when calls like this arrive. Within 20 minutes I had rented a car, my husband cleared his schedule to be with our daughters, and I was on the road from our then home in the Bay Area to Sacramento. I dressed, put my purse on my shoulder, reached for the doorknob and my eyes fell on the mason jar of peonies our dear neighbor had delivered to us the day before... those. Those are coming. I couldn't explain why I needed them to come along - it was much like how, Naomi brought balloons with her nearly every time we left the house. Some children have a teddy bear or blanket. In my house we choose balloons and flowers as companions when we have to brave the world.
They fit in the cup-holder perfectly. The petals were soft against my leg and the big bundle of them reminded me I was not alone. And, I needed that. I needed the very simple next step...just bring the flowers. Then, do what's asked next. Start there. Deliver the flowers Erin.
I arrived to two CalPERS employees sitting with my Dad and Mom and brother reviewing the necessary paperwork one does in these times. The time when cancer becomes a wildfire in the body and death is near. My Father introduced me, he was big on introductions "this is my daughter, Erin." I knew this would be the last time I would hear those words. He began to introduce the CalPERS men and he started to cry. We each cried. Every single person at that table cried. I don't know if I had seen my father cry before. It was a necessary welling up, and over. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen. It was also one of the most purely beautiful moments of surrender I have witnessed.
I placed the jar of peonies on the table.
I felt silly putting those flowers down. These men - my Dad, and my Brother each holding their masculinity with such incredible bravery and presence - it felt sort of odd to place the extraordinary pink peonies in the middle of it all. But, I was lost in sadness and that was the plan. That was the only plan. Just bring the flowers, put them down, and sit. Trust.
So, I did. And, I watched through the bouquet of peonies as these two humble and tough CalPERS employees asked my Dad to tell them about his work for the State of California. They listened and didn't rush him. And, thanked him for his public service. They reviewed the emergency retirement paperwork and assured him that my Mom would be well taken care of after he died. We all thanked my Dad for a life of service and honest work to provide for us. We told him we would be OK after he died. We hadn't yet talked of his death. And, it was time.
The peonies did as peonies do...they opened up over the course of the talking of the unspeakable and the necessary signing. It was incredible.
My Father would live a few weeks more, and pass away on his 59th birthday. The peonies were were almost living in parallel to my father's vessel - they opened more than you would think possible, and lost their color, and shape - but so graceful and generous with their beauty every step of the way. The petals still strong and soft even as they fell to the table and piled on each other. We all commented on these flowers - how they lasted and lasted.
The day after my Dad died we took to the road and drove to the mountains - it seemed the right thing to do. On the way home I would find myself once again, with a bundle of flowers in a jar, in the cup holder of a car. This time - my Dad was delivering us flowers. Sweet Peas. My favorite. These were wild sweet peas literally growing along the shore of Lake Tahoe. The girls and my husband helped pick them - it was so dear. I had NO idea sweet peas grow wild! They smelled like Heaven. Heaven.
Flowers. Found, planted, gathered, gifted ... and re-gifted. Layers of love and meaning in a jar. A precious gift, and reminder of nature's bounty. Leaving only gratitude for the time they were here.
May you always have a jar of flowers on your table...or in your car, or wherever you most need them.