Lilac Lamentations

April 2013 (c) SMG

Is April indeed the cruelest month?

Spectacular cruelties and kindnesses have abounded this month, but I don’t think this is an aberration in the calendar year.

Sometimes April blasts us with snow.  It always brings copious flowers.  The season is complicated for us in a distinct way, because my husband died on the season’s first full day, but spring was not among his illness’s three seasons in hell.

April’s cruelty is rendered in T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, “breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain./Winter kept us warm, covering/Earth in forgetful snow, feeding/A little life with dried tubers.”

Bursting lilacs, the color of a drop of indigo ink stirred into a bowl of cream, can be a glorious sign of life renewed and color restored.

In my household the same flora also brings on months of sneezing fits, an unfortunate linkage that pales next to the symbolic weight these gorgeous flowers carry in Walt Whitman’s poetic lamentation for Abraham Lincoln’s death.

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love. . . .
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

So how is it that the same sight, the same season, the same symbol, can represent both birth and death, immense loss and renewed hope?

For the bereaved this is not a stretch.  It happens every day.

When Vice President Biden spoke last week at a police officer’s memorial service, some of his words came as a parent who–like the slain officer’s and my husband Jim’s parents–had outlived a beloved child.

He told surviving family members that they would know they will be all right when they see an everyday sight–perhaps a baseball field–that reminds them of the person they lost, and find a smile reaching their lips before tears reach their eyes.  He assured them it will happen.

It will.

Sometimes now I can pass a Little League field where Jim coached and smile instead of crying, seeing him clearly as he spent endless spring hours there with our sons and their teammates, all of them  filled with energetic enthusiasm.  It mattered not that the team occasionally was dubbed–by its coach–the “Bad News Bears.”  They loved to be out there with their dad.

I can look at purple wildflowers and smile at the memory of when he brought them to me, instead of weeping at the thought that he never can again.

I can look at a happy bride-to-be’s engagement ring and remember the spring days of our engagement instead of the seasons of Jim’s sickness.


Among Andrew Sullivan’s past poems for Sunday was May Swenson’s Spring Uncovered, in which signs of spring at first seem to represent a shearing loss, a stripping away.  But then spring fowl bring light and life  again.   

“Gone the scab of ice that kept it snug,
the lake is naked.

Skins of cloud on torn blue:
sky is thin….

But autumn fruits upon the water,
Plumage of plum, and grape, and pumpkin bills:

Two mallards ride, are sunny baskets;
they bear ripe light.”


Walt Whitman’s poem ends not in a vortex of grief and loss but with lilacs and birds and stars entwined with the speaker’s still-singing soul, as they are in my memories of Jim:

“For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.”

Author: Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She attended law school on the banks lso is an adjunct professor at a law school near the banks of the Charles River and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter and @schnitzelpond on Instagram. Bonus points for anyone who understands the Instagram handle. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2023 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with the wee Wordpress buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.

4 thoughts on “Lilac Lamentations”

  1. Beautiful. I have not experienced exactly the type of loss you did, but years ago a very close friend died suddenly, and I went through such pain about the beauty of the changing seasons – the beauty was at times unbearable, painful, comforting – all over the map. And I didn’t want tothe season to change because it meant time was going on, getting farther and farther from the memories. May Swenson’s poem is beautifully appropriate. I’m sorry this is an anniversary season of loss for you. Take care, keep writing, and enjoy to the fullest whenever that’s possible.

  2. Beautiful post, Stephanie. You weave the elements together — the lilacs, Whitman’s long lines, Eliot’s fragments, the smiles and the tears and May Swenson’s poem — and make something new and strangely beautiful from them. I am happy for you that now the smile comes first.

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