Shower of Flowers

BREWTON—There are springtime flowers everywhere this morning for Father’s Day. The flowers hang on lamp posts, bridge rails, and they surround the welcome-to-town sign. You can smell them in the air and they make you feel sort of grateful to be here.

I love flowers. They do something to me. It’s hard to smell a flower without smiling.

The town itself is quiet today. It’s an average afternoon in a city of historic storefronts, mills, stone churches, and muddy trucks. The downtown is framed by railroad tracks that cut straight across a pretty mainstreet. There’s Belleville Avenue, with its Greek revival homes that photographers love to put onto postcards.

Today, I’m at Union Cemetery with my wife. We are visiting someone. She arranges a vase of pink Peruvian lilies for the grave of her father. I’m standing several hundred feet away, giving them space.

People need privacy at cemeteries. I’m a big believer in that. I’m a big believer in lots of things, but when it comes to grief, I believe in leaving people alone.

So I walk the maze of headstones, reading names. There are stones for babies, elderly people, politicians, and various Alabamians dating back to 1879. I see a monument for a man who was lost at sea. Another for a woman who died from influenza. Flowers are everywhere. Roses, lilies, daisies, bright plasticized begonias.

There is a big variety in the stones, too. Simple markers and fancy ones. They are adorned with flags, flowers, potted plants, photographs, hankies, cowboy figurines, throw pillows, candles, or letters.

I have no kin in this cemetery, but I’m searching for my last name just the same. I always do this, I don’t know why. My wife says it’s morbid, but I’ve been looking for my name in graveyards since childhood.

I’ve done this everywhere from New York to South Texas. Among the places I’ve found my name were Portland, Little Rock, and Pittsburgh.

We Dietrichs get around.

I see my wife across the cemetery, still clipping flowers with shears, arranging them on her father’s headstone. I can tell we’re going to be here a while.

I am inspecting a headstone from the 1800s when all of a sudden my phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s an old friend texting. He is messaging to say that his wife had their baby last night.

My God, I am a terrible friend, I didn’t even know his wife was pregnant. This just goes to show you that this social-distancing stuff has really taken a toll on friendships.

Soon, he texts pictures of a baby, wrapped in swaddling Auburn University blankets. The text reads, “WAR EAGLE!” All caps. He does this to tick me off.

He and his wife still don’t have a name for the child yet because they never agree on anything. His wife could say the capital of Georgia is Atlanta, and my pal would answer, “Oh yeah? That’s what YOU think!”

So I sit on a park bench to take it all in. Life. Death. Flowers. Auburn. And everything between.

A few days ago, I got an email from a woman who told me that her daughter died. She said she found a book on the girl’s nightstand after the funeral. The daughter was halfway finished reading it when she passed. So one night, the mother picked up the book and finished it for her. Then she emailed me because it happened to be a book that I wrote.

The email moved me deeply. In fact, I read and reread it about a hundred times. Then, I went into the kitchen to read it out loud to my wife. She happened to be on hold with Customer Service at the time.

Her cellphone was on speakerphone, and I could hear that godawful hold music playing. I could tell she was not in a good mood, too. Nobody is ever in a good mood when listening to hold music.

So I started reading the woman’s email while the phone blared corporate instrumental Muzak. Halfway through reading, the hold music stopped and there was a guy on the line saying, “Hello? Ma’am? Hello? This is customer service, is anyone there?”

My wife said into the phone, “I’m sorry, sir, hold please.” Then she told me to keep reading the email.

“Hold?” Phone Guy said. “You’re asking ME to hold?”

“Yes.”

“But, ma’am, this is customer service.”

My wife spoke into the phone doing her best Perry Mason: “Listen, sir, I’ve been on hold for two stinking hours this morning, you can hold for one minute. It won’t kill you.”

“Okay,” the guy said.

So I finished reading the email to both my wife and the customer service guy. And when I finished reading, I think I heard sniffling on the other end of my wife’s cellphone. But we can’t be sure.

I suppose that today, here among these acres of stones, I keep thinking about how momentary life is. And about how much more beautiful this makes it. I suppose I’m thinking about how often I forget that our time is here is brief.

I see my wife in the distance. She is done beautifying her father’s resting place and is walking to the car. I catch up to her. We embrace because no matter how old we get, we’re both fatherless kids on Father’s Day.

My wife hands me a flower. It is a Peruvian lily, from the bouquet on her father’s grave.

“Here,” she says. “For you.”

I smell it. Mostly out of curiosity. But also because flowers have always reminded me of the people I love. And it’s hard to smell one without smiling.

20 comments

  1. Christina - June 22, 2020 7:06 am

    Grief is sacred ground, but you have adorned it with flowers that brought me tears and a smile. Thanks Sean. PS, love your other Brewton stories 👍

    Reply
  2. Pat - June 22, 2020 7:35 am

    Beautiful! Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Jack Giddens - June 22, 2020 10:35 am

    My best memory of Brewton and the Millers goes back to the old Alabama State League of the 40’s when I discovered pro baseball an did my best to get to all the games played in my town, Troy. My Dad told stories from his youth when Virgil “Fire” Trucks pitched in the old league before he earned his fame with the old Detroit Tigers. Thanks for bringing back so many good memories

    Reply
  4. Sue Rhodus - June 22, 2020 10:54 am

    Privacy in cemeteries has always been my thoughts as well..I seldom go to the burial site after a funeral. I feel that is the time for family to say goodbye. You seem to have been witness to the circle of life on your visit. Memories, adornment and a new birth , all among showers of flowers. Seems like a good Father’s Day to me.

    Reply
  5. Connie Ryland - June 22, 2020 11:12 am

    Grief is hard. The one year anniversary of losing my mom is coming up. I wasn’t able to visit her grave on her birthday or Mother’s Day because I broke my foot. Not sure if I will be healed from the surgery to fix said foot by the anniversary. It makes me sad but when I am able to go back, there will be roses going with me. She loved roses and grew them everywhere she ever lived. I’m more like her than I care to admit most days but I will never see a flower of any kind without thinking of her. Sending love and hugs to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  6. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 22, 2020 11:22 am

    Sean, It’s hard to read your blog without smiling. Sometimes I smile with tears in my eyes.

    Reply
  7. Amy - June 22, 2020 11:30 am

    Beautiful! ❤️

    Reply
  8. Phil S. - June 22, 2020 12:47 pm

    You are so right, Sean. Life is momentary, and our time here is brief. It’s what we make of that time, what we mean to others, that matters. The words from James 4:14 come to mind: “Our lives are like a mist, a vapor, that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
    When I think of those in my past whose earthy bodies lie in cemeteries like the one in Brewton that you and Jamie visited, I am uplifted because of all the time they spent loving and nurturing me. It’s up to us to do our very best to live up to the expectations of all those great people.
    Both of my children called me yesterday to wish me happy Father’s Day. They are far better parents than I ever was, thanks to their mother, and I am so blessed that they are living far beyond my expectations. Keep up the good work, Sean.

    Reply
  9. cronkitesue - June 22, 2020 12:49 pm

    One of your best. It’s true, I don’t know anybody who can smell a flower without smiling.

    Reply
  10. jonsportraits.com - June 22, 2020 12:58 pm

    Wonderful brother!

    Reply
  11. Harriet - June 22, 2020 1:50 pm

    My ten-year-old daughter and I were half way through reading “The cricket in Times Square” when she died. Maybe I’ll go back and finish it.

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - June 22, 2020 4:06 pm

    Taking it all in while grieving at cemeteries can do that to us….they make us think. You reminded me again of fathers after our celebration yesterday with one fatherless kid and others whose father is still here. I’d love to visit the small town of Brewton when the social-distancing stuff ends!

    Reply
  13. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - June 22, 2020 4:25 pm

    You are your dog’s dad so Happy Father’s Day to you.

    Reply
  14. MAM - June 22, 2020 5:34 pm

    Just to let you know that a man with Dietrich as his middle name died here in Grant County, NM back in 2014. The obituary doesn’t say where he was buried. And it doesn’t give an explanation of his middle name. It was not his mother’s maiden name. Another small mystery.

    Reply
  15. Berryman Mary M - June 22, 2020 6:55 pm

    Beautiful words, Sean. I missed my husband so much yesterday on Father’s Day. He’s been gone for 11 1/2 years. Grief never goes away. You just learn to live with the hole in your heart.

    Reply
  16. Robert M Brenner - June 22, 2020 7:39 pm

    Beautifully said Sean! You and your wife are two lucky people to have each other❤️❤️

    Reply
  17. Robert M Brenner - June 22, 2020 7:44 pm

    Also, I went to my mom and dad’s graves in Ft. Lauderdale where I grew up and just sat there to tell them how great they were as parents. I cried and they listened, I could feel their love ❤️ ❤️. Thanks Milt and Betty!!

    Reply
  18. Chasity Davis Ritter. (Freddie’s daughter) - June 22, 2020 8:03 pm

    Both of My brothers and their wives are fatherless as am I and my husband. I didn’t really think about that till just now. My favorite cousin lost her dad two months ago. My best friend lost hers two weeks ago. Yeah Father’s Day can be pretty hard. I went to the cemetery the day before because our cemetery has this thing. You can take out all the flowers and yard stakes and flags and decorations you want around Memorial Day but the third Sunday in June (father’s day) they must be removed unless actually attached to the stone either the base or in a vase. (This is for mowing purposes and also general cleanliness) My dads birthday falls in between that time so we made sure it was all fixed up but come father’s day we have to take most of it down. He still has a flower saddle for now and an angel in a green robe as well as a stone dragonfly and a couple of plaques from my mom, his sister and my brothers sitting on the base. I put new flowers just in his vase since I had to remove the ones from the ground so he would still have something nice. And then I went back last night because it’s Fathers Day. And even though I know he isn’t there it’s a place for me to go. I see the dragonflies and birds. I feel the caress of a breeze or a sunbeam break from the clouds to light up my face and I know he is near. I think I’ve forgotten my point that I wanted to write but yes it’s a lot to think about. Life and death and babies. Life is beautiful and precious and fleeting. We gotta make time for people, family and friends and baseball and other important things. We gotta cherish the little moments. And sometimes we gotta leave flowers and stop and smell them too and smile. Love you Sean. Thanks always for your words…..

    Reply
  19. Karen Greatrix - June 23, 2020 5:01 am

    My youngest son and one of my great nephews are named after my dad and on Father’s day they came with me to his grave and I was able to take a very special picture. I love that they were willing to do that for me.

    Reply
  20. Bobbie - June 23, 2020 1:34 pm

    I love Curtis Lee’s comment…smiling with tears in his eyes. I do that a lot. I call them my happy tears. I am always so blessed by your stories. You and Jamie are amazing …meant for each other, and the love you both have is always evident in your writing. Have said before, I never knew that kind of love. Thank you for sharing yours with me.
    God bless you❤️

    Reply

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