My mother, Becky, loved sunflowers. She grew them in her yard and would announce each and every summer that they had “never been as pretty as this year!”
Becky also had a somewhat unorthodox view of religion and what happens when we die. She believed that the actions and the memories of the people left behind constitute a person’s afterlife. She did not believe in heaven. As a consequence, I have struggled since her death to find comfort in the ways grieving people typically do. Thinking of her in a heaven-like atmosphere seems disrespectful of her belief system. Talking to her has had limited utility in making me feel connected. I have had a couple of dreams in which we have had conversations, and those have been enormously helpful, but I can’t conjure those at will. In a classic case of “magical thinking,” I now realize that I approached the trip out west hoping that Mom would send me a sign that all was well and that she was still somehow a part of my daily living, still a part of me.
From Day 1, when we arrived in the Badlands, I noticed a beautiful roadside wildflower. It has yellow petals with a brown center, probably some wild cultivar of a black-eyed susan. I made Chris take a picture that included it.
I saw the same flower again on nearly every roadside of the trip, literally they have been everywhere, and every time I saw them I thought of Mom and her sunflowers and sometimes got a little bent out of shape that I hadn’t gotten my sign yet. There have been random, solitary ones growing among prairie grasses. There was even one growing in the driveway of our B&B (where we and others probably ran over it repeatedly). When I saw those sunflower-y flowers again in Cimarron Canyon, just a few days before our flight home, it hit me; I am a monumental jackass. And my mother, as in many, many other things, was right.
Epilogue: While driving on a Denver interstate to drop off our rental before flying home, there they were again. I had my happy thought before things got nuts with luggage, delays and boarding passes.