Falling Leaves: Remembering Donna

October 19 will mark five years since the death of my daughter, Donna. The weather this week has been gray and dreary, mirroring my mood.  Me and the skies are weeping and wallowing together, keeping company with one another.  I am sharing the words I wrote the day after burying Donna in 2009.  The leaves fell that day just like they are today.  

Weeping Leaf

Yesterday we committed Donna’s body to the ground.  She will become bones.  Strangely enough, this brings us comfort.  One thing that feels very certain is that the act had meaning.  I want to remember the day, so I’m going to share some snapshots of words that will help me do this in years to come.

The funeral procession was excruciatingly long.  The driver of the hearse paced the few cars following at 20 mph for much of the drive.  I had no idea this would be the case and it felt almost cruel at first given the distance we had to travel.  Wondered about the logistics of turning into a McDonald’s for a fountain Coke and thinking we certainly wouldn’t lose any time we couldn’t recover by speeding up to a mere 30 mph.

Jeremy and I were pall bearers with Auntie Carol and Uncle Quinn.  Da advised against this believing it was too much for us.  Jeremy was right in knowing that we had carried Donna thus far and that we were strong enough to carry her to the end.

The strong scent of manure, Jeremy thinks fresh mulch, as we carried Donna to the service site.  The sound of water.  The smoothness of the wood used for Donna’s casket, the beauty of its simplicity, how the yellow leaves that fell on it while we spoke of her contrasted with its warm honey stain.  Wishing I had thought to have the folks gather in a circle around her as we spoke.

Leaves showering down on all of us during the service.  They came to rest on top of heads, in suit coat pockets, pierced on the heel of my pumps, in some of the children’s hands who were there.  Looking up as I listened to see the cloudless blue sky and the leaves falling, falling, falling.  So peaceful.

Seeing the tears of my girlfriends flowing freely, all mothers of young daughters themselves.  The pain on their faces.  When people looked at us with sadness during Donna’s treatment it often confused me.  I would wonder what they were so sad about – – didn’t they realize our girl was so full of life?  Weren’t they choosing hope?  Why did they assume the worst?  Yesterday I understood the tears and sadness and felt them too.   There was solidarity.

The words of our chaplain friend.  The comfort they brought.  The rhythym of the kaddish, never heard before, but familiar.  The shared memories of Donna’s clever nature, her joyful nature.  The ability for all gathered to not need to make sense of why Donna died – – to embrace the randomness of her illness and be sad together without any attempt to rationalize why she was taken from us.

The naked devastation on my husband’s face and knowing I could not make it better.

The visceral sense of wanting to honor Donna’s death.  We will spend much time honoring her life, but yesterday was and needed to be about honoring her death – – providing and blessing a new home for her old home, her slight, beautiful body, now so unnecessary.

Walking up the hill of the nature trail to Donna’s burial site.  As  when she was alive, explaining to her what was about to happen.  Seeing the hole we were to place her casket in and thinking it wasn’t too big, too imposing.  The white rope curled around the wood.  Lowering the box ourselves and feeling the rope on my hands.  Standing over her and somehow telling myself, and believing, it was okay.  The showering of flowers and the vigor in which Donna’s cousins and playmates threw their blooms.  The smiles on their faces, the beauty of their joy and innocence, the fun to be had in throwing a flower in a hole.  Miss Shawn’s deep bow, a salute from one dancer to another.

Donna’s burial was fitting.  It was worthy of her.  I want to say organic, it is the word that is most accurate, but that is now too synonymous with  Whole Foods and an over priced life style.  She will rest in the ground without any obstacles from her becoming part of that ground.  Her body is dressed in cotton, held in a wood box, covered with flowers.  There are no chemicals in her, no concrete vaults around her.  A limestone slab will mark her grave in the coming weeks.  It is covered in lichen.  Deer will eat any flowers we bring to adorn her grave.  We honor Donna in death just as we did in life.

We love you, girl.  We’ll meet you there.

Donna's Grave

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