Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Of life, death, and loss of a loved one

Photo of 19th century letter
In pioneer days, communication was by letter and telegram.
Today, we use text email, and phone calls.
Photo credit: Gerri Bauer
In some ways, we're not so different than pioneers. Many modern Floridians live far from extended family. When a loved one dies, we communicate by text, emails, and phone calls instead of by letter or telegram. But the message, the hurt, and the feeling of loss are the same. The distance from close kin produces aches atop the existing sadness.

Another similarity shows up in how neighbors step in to help in the absence of family. If you're lucky enough to have a supportive spouse, good friends, and helpful neighbors, you're blessed. I am. 

This all came home for me ten days ago, when I lost my beloved mother. Next steps and care for my elderly father landed on me with an urgency. My nearest sibling lives more than 700 miles away, the others more than 1,000. Even I live 75 miles from the town my parents were in.

Like in pioneer days, distant people aren't always able to drop and run when and where needed. Then, transportation difficulties ensued. Today, our unfeeling world interferes. In both eras, financial and health matters factored in. Let's just say I'm grateful 75 miles is nothing today, in terms of distance. I glad I am and was available to the man and woman who raised me with love.

My husband, friends, and neighbors, both in my town and my parents' town, have propped me up with their care and help, just as spouses, friends, and neighbors did in pioneer days. Had the Lord granted earthly life to the two children I lost to miscarriages, I'm sure they, too, would have been by my side, as children in the past were with their parents. As children are today. 

My mother loved flowers. Maybe that's why the floral aspects of pioneer accounts of local deaths stay with me. In an 1878 letter to her son, who lived more than 1,000 miles away, DeLand innkeeper Lucy Mead Parce writes about how a coffin was trimmed. The account is from The Parce Letters: Voices From the Past (Gerri Giovanelli Bauer, West Volusia Historical Society, 2004).  
"Mrs. Thomas's baby (4 weeks old) died last night. Miss Deane sent over for me to come and help trim the coffin last evening. We have some beautiful fine white wildflowers & I made a wreath and cross of those & geranium leaves."
In her memoir, Pioneering in Hillsborough County, Fla. (Daniels Publishers, 1972), Clyde Mansell Gibson mentions flowers in a recounting of her Aunt Emma's 1900 death. The six-year-old Clyde and her siblings and mother:
"... cut all the flowers we had and took them to Miss Grace and her mother to arrange in wreaths and other floral arrangements. They used a lot of arbor vitae for greenery and made everything look beautiful because Aunt Emma was a lover of flowers and had coral vine and honeysuckle growing at either end of the front porch." (40)
Bereavement flowers today are factory farmed and corporately arranged. They're beautiful with a sanitized perfection light years from the messiness of real life. My mother loved sweet peas. I plan to plant them on her grave. 

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