The funeral plant

As I watered the large, leafy plant in the corner of my apartment, I thought of my grandmother.

It’s been about a year since she died, the first time I experienced a death that actually meant something to me, that I could actually feel. I remember feeling overwhelmed being hit by a sense of loss I didn’t know how to deal with. I remember crying on and off for days — in front of my friends, in front of a random lady at the park, at the funeral, on the way home from the funeral — until the time I sat upstairs at the Missourian and my editor showed me a funny YouTube video and I realized that I would be OK.

I also remember the plant.

My aunt had asked me if I wanted to keep one of the many plants sent up by well wishers. I said I’d take one, figuring I’d end up with a small fern or something to take home. We were all sitting in the sanctuary after the funeral, taking pictures and saying goodbye. My aunt remembered that I wanted to keep a plant, just as she gave one of the smaller ones to my cousin.

She picked out a huge, leafy, flowering plant and handed it off to me.

The infamous funeral plant. For transparency's sake, I'll admit that I used a filter on this because the lighting in my apartment is terrible.

The infamous funeral plant. For transparency’s sake, I’ll admit that I used a filter on this because the lighting in my apartment is terrible.

I was a little shocked at the size of the thing and a little unsure of how I’d get it home, but I was in a bit of a funk and wasn’t in the mood to argue. So I stuck it in the back of my car and headed back to Columbia.

My roommates balked a little bit when I brought it home. I was the house pack rat, and the last thing I needed was to add a massive plant to my already messy room.

But I was trying to pick up the pieces of a big loss, and somehow or other, I needed that plant to help me move on. I watered it and cared for it and fought to keep the water in the pot from leaking onto the floor. And for several weeks, that was how I grieved — by giving something else life.

As time quieted the loss, I kept taking care of the plant, though it remained something of a coping mechanism. Much to most people’s dismay, I started calling it my “Dead Grandma Plant,” which I felt a little guilty about until I told my dad and he laughed and said he thought my grandma would have thought it was hilarious.

Over the next year, I’d water it and watch the leaves perk up and I’d smile. I’d trim the dead leaves away and think about how sometimes life is like that — the old parts have to get cut away so you can keep growing. Eventually, I started to fret and worry over making sure it stayed healthy not because I needed it to cope but rather because I genuinely delighted in giving life to something else, because it was something in my life that was lovely. (Really, it’s a beautiful plant.)

Now I know, dear reader, that you’re probably thinking, “What the heck? It’s just a freaking plant.” And I get that. But my life over the past year has had a lot of inconsistency and a lot of change — living in three cities, going from college to job, trying to do the whole “functional adult” thing — and often it’s the little things, the constant things, that remind me everything will be all right. Particularly, it’s a plant that reminds me of my grandmother and reminds me that some things are still lovely.

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One thought on “The funeral plant

  1. Oh, Allie, I love this. Yes, Grandma would have laughed about the name you gave the plant. She was so unsentimental, and yet so doggedly focused on what really mattered—and taking care of the plant would have been what mattered most to her. To add a bit of background, it was from my bestie, LoAnn. She had a family obligation in Atlanta on the day of the funeral and felt so terrible about not being able to be at the funeral that she went all-out on that plant. Afterwards, she asked if I’d made sure that I got it, and I described you driving away from Pella with it totally filling the backseat of your car. I said you had bravely driven to Iowa alone for the funeral, and giving you the plant just felt like the right thing to do. You may also remember that Grandma had a plant just like it in her house by the lake. LoAnn didn’t know that, but she’s a pretty intuitive person and probably just picked up on a wavelength. I can’t wait to share your story with her. I’m glad the plant has thrived, just like you. I love you.

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