Every Sunday – except when we are away – we take flowers to our daughter Clea’s grave in the Gungahlin Cemetery. It is an emotional drive. Yes, taking flowers to the dead is a ritual, and most people will do it maybe once, twice, perhaps three or four times a year. In most cases, their dead were their grandparents, their parents, or perhaps even siblings or the spouse. But burying your own child is not as frequent an occurrence in the 21st century as it used to be in earlier times.
Most graves at the Gungahlin Cemetery have been adorned with plastic flowers. Personally, I must confess that I hate plastic flowers: they may be colourful and of course they are long-lasting, yet they are so fake. As we approach the winter solstice, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pick fresh flowers from our own garden; to make things worse, our very kind, ever so generous neighbours’ rosebushes have already been ravaged by the intense frosts that are frequent in Canberra this time of year.
So we’ve been stopping by the lavatories at the cemetery, and have picked an occasional couple of roses; highly illegal behaviour, I know. There by the public lavatories the cemetery rosebushes seem to be more sheltered, and some buds still manage to thrive despite the cold and the frost.
Occasionally we may buy a bunch of flowers from the florist’s or the supermarket, but it just never feels the same. I’d just like to be able to grow flowers all year round, my own flowers, so we can take them to my daughter’s grave. It is more personal if you take your own flowers, blooms you have planted and cared for, an offering you can feel part of and proud of.
More than a year ago Amaroo School, Clea’s school, planted a beautiful Australian native, a Callistemon, otherwise known as bottlebrush. Next to it a small plaque was fixed to honour and remember Clea. Amaroo School is a relatively new school (its first section was officially opened on 19 May 2004); Clea was the first Amaroo School student to die while enrolled there. Let’s hope she will also be the last, because no parent deserves to go through such an indescribable loss.
The Callistemon (shown above in a picture taken in November 2011) has now grown and its beautiful green, greyish and red hues tinge its surroundings with a little cheerfulness. I think Clea would have been secretly chuffed that such a beautiful plant was dedicated to her, as she loved the colour red, particularly when she was colouring the many loving hearts she would draw to accompany almost anything she wrote or painted.
I will continue to grow as many flowers as possible until I die. Many different flowers, in many different colours, of many different kinds. We now have roses, daffodils, various daisies and golden marigolds in summertime, as well as many others. But I’m particularly pleased with my carnations.
I first planted them in pots, and moved them a year later to a nice spot in the backyard, where they went kind of feral after the generous spring rains of 2011. I took some photographs. This is what they looked like.