My dad worked 60 hours a week. His Sundays were spent doing household or automotive repairs and yard work. He liked the challenge of fixing things, but hated mowing the grass. His goal was to get it over with as soon as possible. In his speed, he was apt to run over everything in his path. He often left a trail of broken toys, decapitated Barbie dolls, and flower beds with their blossoms chopped cleanly off their stems.
Mom was able to overlook his carelessness until he “murdered” her beloved lilac bush. She fussed at Dad for days. She loved lilacs. Every spring she cut lush clusters of blooms and put them in vases, filling the house with their fragrant aroma. She refused to let go of her anger over the loss of the lilac bush. That landscaping crime was brought up every spring for years. Finally, he’d had enough and said, “Shirley, I only hope someday when I’m gone, you’ll grieve half as much for me as you have over that damn lilac bush.”
Ten years later, Dad died of a massive coronary at the age of 52. He got his wish. Mom grieved far more for him than for that lilac bush. I was by then married with a family of my own. When the phone rang late one evening to give me the sad news, I was standing on an old, wooden, paint-spattered chair, painting a mural on my dining room wall. It was my most ambitious art project to date. It took months to complete. Dad often asked me how it was coming along. At the time of the call, I was putting the finishing touches on a lilac bush I’d decided to add at the last minute. My husband answered the phone and I half-listened to his end of the conversation. I knew from the tone of his voice that something was terribly wrong. I stopped painting, climbed off the chair, and walked slowly into the kitchen.
“What is it?” I asked, and he gave me the shocking news that my father was gone. My eyes drifted to the lilac bush I’d been painting when the phone had rung. In my hand was the paint brush, its bristles still coated with purple paint. Was it a coincidence, or was it a message from Dad?
Just then I heard my 18-month-old son stirring and jabbering excitedly in his crib. He was a sound sleeper and seldom woke during the night. I didn’t know if I could face him without upsetting him. He’d always loved visiting my dad, whom he called Papaw.
I entered his room and flipped on the lightswitch. There he stood in his crib, his hands tightly clutching the top rail. He was staring wide-eyed at the corner of the room near the ceiling. His eyes sparkled in excitement and he called out, “Papaw! Papaw!” and I burst into tears. I saw nothing, but I knew his grandpa had come to say goodbye. I believe I’d already received my goodbye when I made that last-minute decision to add a lilac bush to my mural.
Mom passed many years later when the lilacs were blooming. In her honor and as a remembrance of Dad, we made sure to include lilacs in the casket spray.