Memento Vitae I – or, The Pansies and the Rainbows

Lawana, Andrew’s paternal grandmother, passed away on Palm Sunday. Her passing was not unexpected, but the timing was sudden. Andrew and I arrived in time for her viewing on Good Friday. We laid her to rest on Holy Saturday.

Easter Sunday was a whirl of activity at Andrew’s parents’ place. All the siblings, their significant others, and their children had come to see the family matriarch off. Lawana had brought us together for an unexpected family holiday, and we leaned into the opportunity, exactly as she would’ve wanted.

The siblings dispersed on Monday, all except Andrew and me, who opted to stay a bit longer. A post-funereal quiet settled over Andrew’s parents’ house.

Photo by Lucas Marcomini on Unsplash

I was on the phone, planning logistics for the week, when I glanced out the front window and saw Andrew’s parents on their knees on the sidewalk, doing something with the landscaping. The sky was mottled clear blue and heavy grey, the noncommittal calico of a Utahn spring. Nearby trees were thick with new leaves. The mountains beyond were white with late snow.

When my phone call ended, I walked outside to investigate. Andrew’s parents were planting purple and yellow pansies along the front walk.

They’d bought the pansies just after Lawana passed. Pansies were among her favorites. But funeral planning had taken over Holy Week, and now, the day after Easter, the flowers were wilting in their nursery trays.

Pansies, like Lawana, are full of tough optimism. Andrew’s folks were putting the limp little plants in the ground anyway, confident they’d rally with a little love and root stimulant.

I asked if I could help. Andrew’s mother handed me a trowel.

It was both solemn and cheerful, nestling the flowers into the soil among the worms and last year’s mulch. I spoke softly to the ones I was planting. The air was cool enough for the hoodie I was wearing, but the slight exertion of digging made the extra layer unnecessary.

As we worked, Andrew’s father told me how Lawana had always called pansies “try-try flowers,” after a children’s song called “Little Purple Pansies”: Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold / Growing in one corner of the garden old / We are very tiny but must try, try, try / Just one spot to gladden, you and I // In whatever corner we may chance to grow / Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow / Dark the day or sunny we must try, try, try / Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

I smiled, hearing this. Not only did it match the vision of Lawana I’d gotten to know during the recent days of storytelling, but it matched myself as well: “Little Purple Pansies” had been my first delighted thought upon discovering the current project. I’ve never met a pansy I didn’t like. I still had the bouncing tune in my head.

The rain began as we patted the earth around the last few pansies. Those that had been planted first already looked happier. Raindrops speckled the sidewalk around us, the sky darkening only slightly as the sun tilted westward. I worried for a moment that a downpour would crush the wilted leaves, but as I looked up, no downpour was forthcoming. Just a gentle spring shower. Exactly what the pansies needed. Some of them even reached upward for the sprinkling.

Andrew came looking for me just as I headed through the garage door towards the nearest bathroom sink. I sent him out to see our handiwork, warning him of the rain.

A moment later, Andrew burst through the front door.

“Come quick!” he said. “There’s a double rainbow!”

Back we all went into the fresh-smelling rain. Beyond the newly-interred pansies, suspended across the snowy mountains, was a crisp, bright rainbow, the misty sprinkles scattering and dazzling the late afternoon sunlight. Above this rainbow, the faintest double arched like a spirit or a memory. You had to search for it, had to focus. Yet there it was, encircling the vibrant floral rainbow beneath.

The first drew attention to the double. The double sanctified the first.

Lawana would have loved it. We all knew this; knew this without fully expressing it. That it had come just after planting her pansies did not escape us. That it had come the day after Easter, that it had come two days after her burial—none of this escaped us.

We stood in the cool spring rain, our clothes dampening, and gazed up at the rainbows. We took the best photos we could and sent them to Andrew’s scattered siblings. We embraced each other. We spoke quietly of beauty and of awe, and we pointed out the way the green bands glowed against the alpine trees behind it, the way the bright snow set the colors in relief.

“Did you see the pansies?” I asked Andrew.

“I did,” he said. “They’re a great choice. Did you know Grandma Wana called them ‘try-try flowers’?”

“Your dad told me.” I grinned over at Andrew’s folks.

We told each other how the pansies would enjoy the rain. What perfect timing. The flowers would recover and thrive. They’d drop seeds later in the year, we said. Next spring, they’d send up fresh volunteers, and the entire front walk would be full of the lively blooms. They’d be pushing up through the soil for years and years to come.

Has Mother Nature ever given you comfort in some unexpected way? Have natural phenomena ever aligned to provide some kind of emotional synchronicity? Tell us about it in the comments!


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