I laid all the flowers for the bouquet out on the table.
Soft purples, whites, and a zillion shades of pink that reminded me of girlhood, of childhood. I carefully and diligently prepared the flowers for a bouquet that I had been avoiding.
I had been in the flower business for three weeks and this was the first bouquet that was requested to be sent because of someone passing. This someone was a six-year-old little girl and the flowers were for her mother on the day of the funeral. A six-year-old little girl. When I choked back tears to ask if there were any special flowers requested, I was instructed that the bouquet should be comforting, but other than that, no requests.
As a mother myself, and someone who has intimately witnessed the grief of a parent outliving her child, I wasn’t sure if flowers could possibly do such a thing—give comfort for such a loss. Yet, there I was, one by one, arranging a delicate bouquet with as many flowers as I could possibly fit, just in case I was wrong, and these flowers could possibly provide an ounce of comfort.
As I arranged them, I noticed I was taking tiny breaths, the kind of breaths you take because you are scared the tears will come if you breathe too deeply. The kind of breaths that resemble the breaths taken after a huge loss, when you know you need to breathe to live but aren’t sure if you can live anymore. So you take just enough air in to keep going, but not enough to fully commit to living life again. Tiny, little breaths.
The sweet air around me from the fragrant flowers reminded me of my 35th birthday. I had just barely survived a loss, not just of something I thought would be in my life forever, but also the loss of myself. I was slowly returning to life again. My 35th birthday marked that it had almost been a year of tiny sips of air, just enough to keep me alive, but not enough to commit to life. That year, anything more than a sip of air into my lungs would make my whole body ache at the acute awareness that I was living through something I never wanted to live through. I learned to master the art of the shallow breath. The breath that could sneak in without triggering a feeling.
On that day of my birthday, my house filled with people. As each person entered, they handed me pretty, smelling candles, flowering plants that made the air smell like honeysuckle and lavender and giant bouquets of flowers. Bouquets as full as they could possibly be, similar to the one I was piecing together now.
I remember one bouquet in particular. As it was handed to me, I began to feel overwhelmed by all that was surrounding me. All the love, all the life. I felt undeserving. I felt gratitude. Most of all, I felt once again like a breath could break me.
Wanting to hide my tears, I buried my face into the oversized bouquet and took a tiny breath in. The air smelled so sweet that I couldn’t help but take a deep breath—the deepest breath. As the air entered my lungs, the sweet aroma of the flowers seemed to soften the harsh reality that life does continue after loss, no matter how hard we try to fight it. The sweet air was proof that one day we will want to take more than a tiny breath because the air will smell so utterly beautiful, we will want to experience it fully. We will want to experience life again. We will want to live again.
It took me two hours to build that bouquet for the little girl’s mother. I added the softest smelling flowers. Our losses were different—the gravity of them different. I will never pretend to know the deep pain of losing a child, but I do know the desire to not breathe. As I arranged this overflowing bouquet, I hoped it would offer a reason to take a deep, life-sustaining breath in. I hoped this arrangement would remind her that she was surrounded by people trying their hardest to make the air breathable again through sweet-smelling candles, fragrant flowering plants, and oversized, overflowing bouquets.