They bloom in Denver in June, the last springtime blooming of flowers before the start of summer.
Every spring when I see them bloom, I'm drawn back to the night of attending the death of one of my patients when I was a hospice chaplain. I had cared for this woman, along with a small, determined, loving, and dedicated circle of women friends for about six months. This circle of women, some longtime friends, some very new friends, cooked for her. Sang to her. Stayed the night on a rickety sofa with her so she wouldn't be alone. They gathered in person every Sunday afternoon to plan for the following week... who would cook, who would stay over, and who would simply, show up. Showing up for a dying friend is huge.
Hospice chaplains, depending on the hospice, are usually called in the middle of the night to attend a death, by the hospice nurse. At the hospice where I worked, chaplains would arrive at the home of a patient, stay with the family, if there was one, and wait for the mortuary to arrive to take the deceased to the funeral home.
I arrived at this beloved patient's home around 5am, just as dawn was making herself known. There she was, surrounded by this amazing circle of women who were doing the intimate work of cleaning her body, weeping, laughing, doing memory making together, feeding each other. After they cleaned her, they anointed her body with oil. More coffee was made, more remembrances spoken.
I stood by in awe, watching these women, these ritual makers, ritual bearers, ritual leaders, create this anointing space for each other, and for their beloved friend, with oil, food, coffee. I watched, almost as a voyeur, how the deep place of sisterhood and friendship live out in moments such as these.
This sacred moment also reminded me of how rare this ritual was for me to witness in all the years I was a hospice chaplain. This one time. It was so defining that I've tried to hold onto the memory of that early morning and the powerfulness of those cleaning and anointing moments in a circle of women, with great care and tenderness.
The mortuary arrived, wrapped her anointed body, and placed her on the gurney to leave her home. This circle of women, then walked with her, out the threshold of her home, pulled peony blossoms from the bushes in the front yard, and threw the petals on their beloved friend. This gesture of love, of being fully in the moment with the beauty of blooming peonies took my breath away as I watched this journey to the car from the steps of her house. More peony petals thrown on the gurney as she was delicately placed in the vehicle. It was sacred and holy.
The women packed up and said their goodbyes to each other and to me. I left too, and remember as I walked out putting some peony petals in my pocket. I held onto those petals for a long, long time.
Ritual making in life, but especially at death, can be some of the most powerful moments in our memory making, as we look back tending to a patient, someone we love, a parishioner, or simply being a friend.
Today I'm sending you peony petal love. May the ritual making in your life be blessed.