In Pursuit of Irises


Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 10.12.15 PM I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on dying, near death experiences over the years. Probably well over a hundred by now. I included them in my nightly reading fodder long ago. Not that I don’t need them, but I’ve grown a little tired of the books reminding me of good habits. Aside from curiosity about practical things on planet earth (such as how to grow a nice herb garden, and perhaps how to raise bees), I just want to know a couple of things: Where do we go when we die, really. And why don’t the telephones work there? So many near death experiencers say it’s wonderful. But what about the communication? This is where the irises have come in, strangely enough.

My maternal grandparents, Cyrus and Mary Katherine Cacioppo, grew irises. They also had an apple orchard (the second generation of orchardists, as my great grandparents also had one.) Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 10.25.53 PMAs a kid, I remember the countless varieties of irises, even as their iris garden was new, and just a fun goal for them to someday create their own iris hybrids. My grandmother, an artist, painted lovely irises – I still can’t paint them as well. I tried to create pastel versions of hers when I was little, and had an art show for her once  when I was in the third grade. Then, and for the rest of her life, she was gracious and encouraging, and told me I should be an artist.

My mom sold paintings and primarily loved decorating, and my grandmother a writer and artist. Both encouraged me. I grew up with these paintings of her irises. I am fortunate that they have always been in my most personal spaces, where I can reflect and think. Sometimes I think about her excellent oil technique, her love of nature, or just that I simply miss both her and my grandfather.

We had a small, impromptu get-together at Mom’s. My mother, daughter, uncle, aunt, and husband were there. Our family is lively by nature. Even with a small group we echoed the political and business discussions, peppered with scientific humor, technology and interesting stories that I remembered growing up. I found myself deeply missing them, as I often do. A few years after my grandmother passed, it occurred to me to ask her to send me irises to show me things were okay.

I didn’t care how they arrived, or what kinds of irises – just irises. I remained open to the idea that even a pendant, or photo of an iris would be fine. Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 9.56.33 PMWithin a week of this secret, mental request, I came home from work to find 2 grocery bags full of uprooted irises. No note, no phone call. I had no idea who sent them. I found out a couple of weeks later that my cousin was going through my great grandparents’ orchard, and thinned out my great-grandmother’s iris garden. He thought I’d like them, and noted that they were double blooming irises. Coincidence, I thought.

Later that summer, we decided to do a “rescue mission” on my mom’s garden before she sold her house. I was to be caretaker of a dozen or so Liliputian irises until they found a home with one of us. A year later, when I felt especially sad they were no longer around, I received about a dozen irises the following year which were my grandmother’s.

When Kevin was in surgery this year, I prayed my grandparents would look after him and help me pray. While waiting in the recovery room, I later noticed I happened to sit beneath a huge painting of an iris – all of the other seats were taken.

Missing them again as spring neared, I received a bouquet from my daughter for Mother’s Day. It was full of lilies and irises.

I found it inspiring that I’ll get irises, sometimes in the oddest ways. I don’t have these flowers around all of the time, nor were they really in my life before my grandparents died. I think it’s important to watch for these little, quiet signs.

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