Saturday, May 07, 2011
Laura Kathleen Herrmann - Five Years Later
Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of Laura's death. Thursday, I took Simon and Veronica to place flowers at her grave. The headstone continues to accumulate sea shells; Laura loved to go to the beach and collect shells and beach glass. Each time I visit her grave, it seems as if the shells have changed. Some probably get washed off by rain, then chewed up by lawn mowers. But new ones always spring up to replace those that have gone missing.
Almost always, the shells are fragments, bleached perfectly white. I hadn't really thought about it before, but on this visit I found symbolic value in this; the fact that the shells are fragments reflects that Laura's life was a fragment. What we think of as a full, natural lifespan was cut short by cancer. She spent an unfair number of days of her life simply wanting to breathe deeply. I don't mean to devalue her life. She worked within her physical limits to live as fully as anyone. But, I sometimes will be at a farmer's market, or a library, or a beach, and see thin, gray haired woman walking by, smiling, engaged with friends and family and strangers, and I mourn that Laura never reached this stage of life. She would have been one kick-ass old lady.
As for the symbolism that the shells are all bleached white... as the years go by, it becomes harder to remember Laura's flaws. There's a tendency to remember her courage, her wisdom, and her strength, while setting aside her fears, her foolishness, and her weakness.
The truth is, without her fears, her foolishness, her weakness, she wouldn't have had me in her life. Not because I was such a foolish choice, but because, if she'd been perfect, she wouldn't have needed anyone's help. But, she wasn't perfect. She was afraid of dying, afraid of loneliness, terrified at times of what cruel twist fate had lying in wait for her just around the corner. My personality tends to be analyitical, cynical, and flippant, not the most attractive traits, yet well suited toward dealing with existential fears.
I don't visit Laura's grave as often as I used to. I didn't go for her birthday this year. I doubt I'll go again before late summer. By then, I'll have been back to the beach. I hope this year I can find some beach glass, pale blue and green and brown. Small fragments that will fit into the gaps in the indented letters on her headstone, filling them in with some darker shades to provide contrast with the white shells and the gray stone.