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July 30, 2007
It would have been better if Q had done the flower arrangement for Mary; he is really good at arranging flowers. But I did my best. The best way to describe my arrangement would be with a list: white hydrangea, blue sea holly, cheery yellow rudbeckia, deep pink echinacea, white and deep pink oriental lilies, light purple hosta flowers, deep purple buddleia and that trailing plant with the pink flowers whose name I never can remember. It looked pretty decent, if I do say so myself. Besides, the vase was the thing.

We took it over to the church and set it on a little table -- we'd give it to her after the service, so as not to spring it on her in front of a crowd. Because the day would be a difficult one for Mary; it was the third anniversary of her husband's death. Her son Evan, a master ceramist, had sent me the beautiful celadon vases he created in memory of his dad, using a special process known to him alone, something that makes them very special indeed: the glaze is made with the ashes of the one who has died.

He empties the ashes into the glaze. There is a residue of ashes left in the container; he wipes that clean and adds the cloth he used to the glaze. He uses a disposable brush; when he has finished brushing the glaze on, he cuts off the bristles and adds them to it. Nothing that has touched even the tiniest earthly part of the one we mourn is thrown into the common trash -- it all becomes part of the glaze. In the superheated interior of the kiln, everything becomes one thing. Its colors intensify as they blend. Everything fuses to everything else on the object's surface, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Will I survive the loss of the one I love? At first I think I will not. At first I think I will die, too, and I think that the sooner that happens, the better. But then I do survive, and the jagged edge of my pain fuses with the rest of my history in the furnace of my grief: it is part of me, now, and I am a deeper thing than I was because of it.

Where's Mary? I asked. She had been sitting right behind us in the pew, and now she was gone. The service was over, and I wanted to give her the vase of flowers.

Oh, she left right after communion, Helen said. She wanted to get to Philip's house on time.

Oh, no, I thought, we've missed her. Why hadn't I remembered that she was spending the afternoon with Phil? Q and I beat a hasty retreat; we'd drive the flowers over to Mary's and leave them for her on the front porch. Not what we had planned, but it would have to do. It still would be a welcome sight when she came home in the evening.

But God was good: Mary's car was still in her driveway. She was baking a blueberry pie to take over to her younger son's house. And so the flowers were delivered in person. She knew immediately what the vase was. Or perhaps I mean who it was; it was an earthly part of the man who, for more than fifty yeas, had been a part of her. That fact joined the beauty of the object, a cool forever green against a riot of fragile flowers that would be here today and gone tomorrow, to the quiet depth of an ongoing love that does not die. For us, we say at a burial, life is changed, not ended. Refined in a refiner's fire, until it melts into unending beauty.
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