She lived in a world filled with symbolism. Immersed in the ancient civilizations of China, Japan and the Native Americans, she was familiar with the importance of symbols in life. The Chinese and Japanese each have written languages made up of characters, each representing more than just a letter or even a word. They often describe a phrase, or a story, or have situational meaning. Native Americans have a limited written language in their native tongue, but do have symbols and sign language. This form of language results in hundreds, and even thousands of characters, or symbols, used in written communication.

She spoke Chinese, and read Japanese, and understood some of the words of the Native Americans of the eastern forests. Art was her forte though and as in all art, the creations of these peoples were filled with symbolism and hidden meaning.

When she died, she took with her a great deal of knowledge and expertise. I wish I had picked her brain so much more when I had the chance. But I knew some of the symbolism and I wanted to pay my final respects with as much of it as I could.

In choosing a flower arrangement, I opted for white chrysanthemums and blue iris.White is the color of death in the East, and chrysanthemums represent longevity. She was 90 years old when she died. The blue iris is recognized in China as the dancing spirit of Summer, its petals reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings. She certainly had a wonderful spirit. And both of these flowers were her favorites, and I remember her growing them in her garden for many years.

To her funeral I wore a wristwatch to recognize the Native American people of the Southwest. It had a sterling silver band, etched with leaf symbols, and encrusted with turquoise stones. This is my favorite watch, a taste I picked up from her. And I only wear it on very special occasions.

As I stood over her open casket, taking a final look, I placed a gift for her into what was once a warm and soft loving hand. Now cold and pale. It was a small Chinese cloisonné box. She loved the Chinese and Japanese enamelware, and ceramics. Inside the box I had placed a note to her for her journey. The note was written with a fountain pen made by the Esterbrook Pen Company, a place where she worked when she met my father. In the note I told her that my own children and I said to each other, every morning on their way to school, “and most of all, we love each other.” I knew she wasn’t really holding the box, but I hoped she was able to understand the massage. And to get the symbolism. She was my mother…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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