A tall hibiscus used to grow in the middle of a small patch of dirt next to our house, surrounded by tiny multi-hued impatiens. Because of the plot’s uneven soil distribution, the hibiscus towered over the surrounding flowers like a statuesque horticultural shrine.
Or like a headstone.
Neither my husband nor I ever came out and said it, but we both knew that is exactly what it was—a headstone, a tomb, a memorial. We had planted the hibiscus and a slew of other spring flowers shortly after we lost what I am certain would have been our baby girl. A week earlier we had stared at the eerily quiet ultrasound machine, silent save for the static swirl. There was no steady thrum-thrum-thrum-thrum , no tiny heartbeat sounding like a thousand stampeding horses, only the static. That and the sound of the ultrasound tech’s steady breath; my husband and I had since stopped breathing.
We hadn’t meant for the plant to be a memorial. We had simply purchased a few summer flowers and plants, hoping that the bright colors, along with the sudden onslaught of sunny days, would be enough to distract us from the dark clouds and gray skies that lingered within our hearts. Yet, without intending, the plant had become a memorial of sorts—an acknowledgement that even though our hearts were broken (and still breaking), our spirits stood strong. It became a tribute to the life that had almost been, but would never be; a headstone for the dead fetus that had been scraped from my womb; a quiet resting place for our grief.
As my husband worked under the warm afternoon sun, I stood back and watched him dirty his hands, methodically and silently, placing roots into the ground, covering them with sacred earth. When he finished planting that flowering shrub, now standing taller than the rest of the flowers, it immediately seemed to have the strength to hold the heavy weight that our hearts could no longer bear. We buried our sorrows along with those roots and we tried to move on. I distracted myself with various social plans and caring for our then eighteen-month-old son, my husband was consumed with work obligations and job stress.
We shed our tears alone. We rarely talked about it, except in hushed whispers under the cover of darkness. Few people asked, and we didn’t share. Because, really, how could I have explained that the doctors had cut a little piece of my soul out when they used their cold metal tools. We tried to minimize the pain, but its real impact simmered below the surface and bubbled up in odd and misplaced ways.
It was months before I could bring myself to hold my niece, who was born just days after our baby had been due. An elusive hopelessness settled in, along with an unpredictable bitterness and a resigned loss of faith, which manifested itself in misplaced and misdirected ways.
But while I was struggling desperately to move on, each time I passed that hibiscus plant, I paused—sometimes just for the briefest of moments, sometimes for several minutes—and reflected on the losses that lay in that floral tomb and a quiet, hopeful peace settled around me.
A year after we planted the hibiscus, we moved from that house, choosing to rent it to a group twenty-something’s. Needless to say, the plant was not cared for and it languished. In all honestly, it probably would have suffered even had we stayed—the soil was rocky and infertile, it received insufficient light, and my gardening skills are, let’s just say, lacking.
But, in my mind’s eye, that statuesque hibiscus still stands tall in the afternoon sun, proud of its delicate flowers and confident in the strength of its sturdy roots buried below. At the time, the plant was as a memorial to our pain and grief. But, in time, the plant has come to symbolize the power of our spirit—strong roots of resiliency, flowering petals of faith and love, and budding hope for good things to come.
I recently stopped by our old house to do some clean-up work around the property and, while the hibiscus has been replaced with red mulch, a semi-circle of bricks still surrounds the place where the floral headstone once stood. After I finished sweeping up the cigarette butts and beer cans, I paused in front of the place where the plant had once grown. I said hello and goodbye to our sweet angel, and thanked God for our son who was born a couple years after this dark time. A heaviness began to settle in, tears brimming at the corners of my eyes. But this time, the heaviness held just a tinge of regret and consisted mostly of a quiet weighty confidence that was filled with resilience, faith, and love.