Hill Street Gladiola’s
Being born and raised in Southampton has always been something I have considered a gift. Not only do I believe it’s the most beautiful place in the world but I also learned it is a place of deep healing.
Nine years ago I was twenty-six years old and my mother fifty-five. She took her last breath of life at home during sunset overlooking Long Beach in Sag Harbor. She often referred to those sunsets as “paradise” so it wasn’t much of a surprise that she chose that moment to take her journey upward.
Everything that happens in your life can never fully prepare you for such a loss. Losing my mother, who was my favorite person in the world dismantled me. It changed me. Everything I knew felt like it had reversed itself in a millisecond. The goal of my days during my grief was to simply get through, minute by minute. The hospice social worker told me, “all you have to do is get out of bed in the morning and put two feet on the ground. That’s it.” At the time it was the only statement that gave me comfort but at the same time completely overwhelmed me.
I found that after my mother’s death people weren’t a comfort to me. I’m a very social person and typically find that being with people does help but in this case it was the opposite. People either didn’t want to bring it up because they felt it would make me sadder or they didn’t know how to deal with it. Then there were the famous lines of what to say to a grieving person, like, “time heals all wounds and your mom is now in a better place.” Needless to say I found more comfort watching an episode of Beevis and Butthead.
A few months after her death summer had arrived and as the season peaked I would often drive home through Hill Street in Southampton. As a young girl we had a house off of Hill Street on White Street and I had fond family memories of this area. For years every summer there was a flower stand that opened up on Hill Street. I never stopped but always secretly wanted to. There were buckets of rainbow colored gladiolas, dahlias and perfect sunflowers. It was the colors of the flowers that always caught my eye and the simplicity of the “mom and pop” style stand. There was no person outside managing the stand; it was all based on the honor code. Pick your flowers, put your money in the box and go.
On my way home from work everyday my heart would always feel heavy. There was something about knowing I had to go home to sit with my grief that made me feel like I had bricks sitting on my chest. One day I decided to stop at the Hill Street Gladiola stand and buy some flowers. I must have spent close to an hour picking out a dozen gladiola stems and enjoying every minute of it. I left my money in the small wooden box, which also held rubber bands for the flowers. When I arrived home I arranged the gladiolas in a beautiful tall vase that my mother gave me for a house-warming gift and placed them on a table in the foyer area . I sat on my couch staring at this sight of beauty and just wept from the deepest part of my solar plexus. It was the first time in months after my mom dying that I had felt joy. I’m not sure if the tears were because I had forgotten what joy felt like or because I felt it was okay to be feeling it.
I became a frequent flyer at the gladiola stand on Hill Street that summer and every summer after. I met wonderful people there and we shared stories of grief, joy, life and loss. It became a place of healing for me for many years. I felt that I connected to my mother by going there and picking out flowers and bringing them home for myself or bringing them to the cemetery. It also gave me permission to feel joy again and once I could do that it made my grief much more tolerable.
Ironically less than two years after my mother died, I began working as a hospice social worker. Despite what people may think that because I work with death and dying everyday and that might make it easier, its not. Losing my mother at a young age shook my world upside down and around. I continue to work on my grief and I learn more about it every day.
What the Hill Street gladiola stand taught me was that there are gifts in the wreckage. In a time when you feel there is nothing going your way or on your side something randomly comes along and saves you. Maybe it’s just that you are now open to receiving it or maybe it finds you. In my case I think it was a bit of both.
I lead bereavement groups and at the end of the three-month groups I give group members a token on their last day. Sometimes it’s a rock that is a symbol of strength. Other times I give a piece of beach glass to remember that after something has been turned and tumbled it softens and shines. And then there are times when I give a gladiola seed to represent planting joy. It’s my way of paying it forward in gratitude and in honoring my mother.