You are my sunshine….

No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to capture the beauty.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to capture the beauty.

I can still hear my mother, “White, I want white flowers.  Nothing colorful.  This is a good white.”  She was pointing to a bouquet of flowers I had brought her.  “Memorize this color white.”

I’m not sure when she started telling us what kind of flowers she wanted at her funeral.  It was long before she ever got sick.  I think she went to a friend’s funeral where the flower arrangements were so tacky she felt visually assaulted.  That’s when she started instructing us as to what she wanted at hers.  The discussion was partly in jest and partly her way of keeping us cultured.  My mother was all about appearances.

Cousin Carol was there for many of the lectures.  I remember once Cousin Carol brought a new boyfriend over when the discussion went to my mother’s funeral.  She launched into her usual detail about the specific white she wanted.  He was noticeably horrified and wasn’t sure how to react.  Cousin Carol spent many summers with us and knowing my mother, just laughed through the description.

My mother had wanted us to be close to our cousins.  In the summers, we didn’t go to sleep away camp.  Instead, we were shipped to each others homes so that we’d bond.  The starting age was about 5 when you’d go on “vacation” to various relatives’ homes.  She loved her cousins and wanted us to have the same relationships with ours as we aged.  She was right, we are close and it was those summers of bonding that sealed it.

One summer Cousin Carol stayed for something like 4 weeks.  It might have even been longer than that.  At the end of every week, my mother would ask her, “Are you ready to go home?”  She was around 8 with a lot of energy and for the longest time her answer was “No.”  Many nights she insisted on going to bed in her bathing suit so she’d be ready to swim first thing in the morning.  My mother would argue with her about it but in the end Cousin Carol slept in her bathing suit.  Morning would come first with the birds singing over the steady hum of the fan in our window.  Then the squirrels would have raucous races up and down our roof.  We slept under the eaves and the tiny pounding of their feet would wake us.  That was our cue to go downstairs for breakfast.  We’d have cereal with blueberries picked from our bushes in the yard.  While we sat there eating with bed heads and sheet marks still embedded in our faces my mother would sing.  Different tunes but many times it was, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”  We’d roll our eyes in mock embarrassment.

After my mother’s death we had to put together the wake and funeral.  All of us remembered and agreed – white flowers.  I didn’t go into desperate detail with the woman at the florist about the EXACT white that was needed.  I was in mourning and details such as that had to be let go of for us to move on.  I told the funeral director that anyone calling about flowers should be told to purchase white ones.

I even tried with my other Polaroid camera.

I even tried with my other Polaroid camera.

When I walked into the funeral home nearly every flower was white and it was emotionally suffocating.  There was one bouquet in the corner.  That one had sunflowers and blue hydrangeas and was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.  The card attached read; You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.  Love, Cousin Carol.  My heart ached with pain I had never known before.  Even though it took my mother months of agony to die, the intense loss came as a surprise.  She was gone. 

My mother was right about a lot of things but all white floral arrangements in a funeral parlor was not one of them.  People attending and mourning need color to soften the pain in their hearts.  I told Cousin Carol how much I loved the arrangement and I mentioned, “Didn’t you remember my mother’s request for white flowers?”

“Remember?” she said, “Who could forget!  I hate white flowers so I just ignored her.”

 Sunflowers and small vase

You’re not supposed to laugh at wakes but there I was with a belly full.  My mother would have smiled too.  Since then, every summer when the hydrangea are in bloom I make bouquets and include sunflowers.  They make me think of my mother, my Cousin Carol and the summers of my childhood and of course, they make me laugh.

This entry was posted in Essay, Grief, Memories, Mother. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to You are my sunshine….

  1. Daile says:

    Beautiful! My mother was specific on things at her funeral too but she never mentioned flowers. I can imagine a room full of all white flowers would be suffocating. I smiled at Cousin Carol and her sunflowers

  2. John says:

    Well, all I can say is that I love your Cousin Carol! Thank you for sharing her with us….

    I cannot imagine an all white flower funeral, though, this is not the first story I’ve heard of a white flower funeral I’ve heard. Years ago, my mom went to one, someone she’d worked with, I think. She thought the white flowers were nice, but, “too much”.

    My mother has planned her own funeral — down to the songs. She has mentioned making some changes, but, as far as I know, hasn’t carried though. I think she’s just worried that since I’m no longer a church-goer, or believer, that I’ll just have some kind of funeral in a generic hall, somewhere, with none of the Catholic trappings that make her happy. I’d be lying if I didn’t say i’d rather have a simple funeral…. but, it’s hers, it’s what she wants… so, it’ll be the big, long, High Mass Catholic Funeral that she wants.

    I’ll probably sneak in a few extra, non-hymn songs though. 🙂

    • maesprose says:

      Do as she wishes. It’s only a few hours out of your life. That way she can rest in peace as will your conscious.
      My father will have just the opposite. He’s of Irish origin and wouldn’t mind if we had him on a block of ice with beer … and there will be a mass.

  3. jwpenley says:

    Wonderful memories, beautifully told.

  4. Dean B says:

    I can relate to this. I too spent many of my summer vacations with our cousins in my maternal grandmother’s house and we grew up to be really close, more like siblings, really. I want this too for my daughter, sadly she only has one cousin on my side of the family and her cousins on her father’s side are all grown-up!

  5. Gosh, I love this post. Your mother was a very wise woman and so is your Cousin Carol. The idea about skipping summer camp and opting for cousins visiting cousins, what a wonderful concept with wonderful and lasting results too! And the white flowers, yes that must have been interesting and then when you saw that gorgeous colorful display, I can only imagine about that emotional moment… And these words, boy do I relate to them:

    “Even though it took my mother months of agony to die, the intense loss came as a surprise. She was gone.” I’m sorry for your loss.

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I could go on and on, but I better stop.

  6. Beautiful – thank you for this lovely story of love and colour 🙂

  7. Terry says:

    Love it. Hydrangeas are also one of my favorites.

  8. LB says:

    I LOVE Cousin Carol! Truly … what a story to cherish!

  9. Tracy says:

    thanks for sharing these stories and memories Mae. I agree,some white flowers are peaceful and pretty. All white flowers is overwhelming. Cousin Carol made a good choice 🙂

  10. elroyjones says:

    Me too; I love Cousin Carol! What a terrific idea to have the cousins vacation at each other’s homes in the summer.

  11. farhad says:

    very nice and interesting .

  12. K C Eames says:

    Thank you Mae, thank you.

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