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Don't Forget To Water The Flowers!

Illustration by: Rashmi Phetvani

Joey wakes up with tears welling up in his eyes and a sinking feeling in his heart – another dream about his grandma. It has been a month since she has left forever. Of course, a month is not adequate for a 10-year-old to process and to heal from this deep wound. Grief has no definite timetable because it trails its own trajectory. It is a reflection of whom and what people love – the stronger the love, the longer the grief persists.  

Joey lives by the sea in a small cottage with his father, mother, and grandma – whom he calls, "Granny". His father is a fisherman, and his mother works at a tailor's downtown. While his parents go to work all day, Granny takes care of him, feeding, teaching, reading stories to him, and keeping him company. Therefore, he feels less lonely when he does not have any friends to play with. On the whole, Granny was a grandma, a motherly figure, a mentor, and a friend to him. Now that she is gone, he feels as if he has lost all four of them. 

He lies awake on his bed; tears start to stream down his face as he recalls his dream. He was sitting with Granny in her small garden in the backyard and eating his favourite egg pudding that she made for him. Afterward, he ran around the garden, chasing after playful butterflies, fluttering around the colourful kiss-me-quick flowers, blushing roses, snowy lilies, and aromatic jasmines. "Joey, don't forget to water the flowers!", reminded Granny, while planting some new lily bulbs. She gave him the duty of watering all the flowers, prompting him, "Flowers, like humans, need attention and love all the time. Or else, you'll regret not doing so when they start to wither and eventually die." 

He begins to cry harder remembering this bittersweet memory. 

The next morning, he dawdles downstairs to have breakfast. "Good morning, Jo! How are you feeling?" smiles his mother, as she prepares his breakfast. His father has already left for work. "I'm fine.", he squeaks, slumping down on the chair. His parents have noticed his patent shift in behaviour over the month – he has lost interest and enthusiasm in things he loves to do, such as playing football, drawing, and writing short stories. He has been moping around at home. His mother breaks the silence, "Do you know what is the longest-lasting thing in the whole world?" He shrugs in response. "Memories! They stay in your heart forever. But you also have to be grateful for them. Think of them often and appreciate them.", encourages his mother. Joey looks at the small flower garden in the backyard from the window. His mother sighs, "I miss her, too, Jo. She was my mother. Losing a mother is the most painful thing no matter how old you are. But you have to remember that she would want us to be happy even when she is gone. We should try to move on, and continue living happily. For her."

The following evening, Joey manages to go outside for the first time in a month and heads to the sea. He strolls alone, alongside the vivacious waves crashing into the seashore and emanating the brackish scent of the seawater. The gust of sea breeze brushes his skin, filling him with chills. He stands still and lets one of his fond memories of Granny rush in.

They were walking by the shoreline when Joey pointed out, "Granny, some waves are big and some are small!", as he observed his surroundings. "Yes, Joey. You know, waves are like human emotions. Sometimes, we feel a big wave of emotions, such as sadness, happiness, or loneliness. Sometimes, we only feel a small wave. Because we all react to and get triggered by things differently," explained Granny. Joey frowned, as he processed what Granny had said. "But I don't want to feel a big wave of sadness. How can I stop it?" "Joey, you can't go and stop the waves in the sea, can you? Our emotions are just like that. You can't force yourself to not feel your emotions. You learn to deal with them, just like how you learn to swim with the waves in the sea. When sad things happen in life, you have to accept the reality and try to move on from them. And just like how the waves subside as they reach the shore, you will eventually heal from sad things." This memory of Granny soothes him as if she is with him right now.

He then sees a colossal wave, approaching him from a distance. Grief. That is what he is feeling at the moment. A big wave of grief. But he cannot go and stop the waves as Granny has once said. Likewise, he cannot force himself to stop grieving. He needs to accept the heartbreaking reality that Granny is gone. As the colossal wave begins to break and eventually diminishes into swash, washing his feet on the sand, he recollects that he too will one day heal from the heartache of losing Granny. For now, "I have to go and water the flowers.", he remembers.

Meanwhile, in Granny's garden, the lilies are blooming beautifully, subtly indicating the universal message that new flowers are thriving and old ones are wilting every day everywhere on the earth. As Joey is watering the blossoming lilies, he smiles, "I'm very happy that I got to have you in my life and spend time with you, Granny. It is better than not knowing you at all." Just like how Granny had cared for her flowers, she had nurtured him with love and care for all his life. He realises that he should follow her steps – he should continue taking care of her garden because it is the root of his warmest memories of her. Therefore, he needs to cherish them every day. 

Finally, he begins his journey of healing. However, grief is a lingering sentiment that comes in and goes away like waves. Some days, the sadness from grieving can be heightened and can come sweeping in like a huge tide. Joey has to learn to swim with the waves because that is what life is –unpredictable and unsteady.

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