By Rosemary Kew
In the small English town of Oundle, where my mother spent 35 of her last years, daffodils were planted in 1919 in memory of the men who never came home after the Great War. Those daffodils have been there for over a century now, and how they have multiplied! Every spring the sight is breathtaking, and its splendor is replicated all across the nation. The names of those men are engraved in countless churches and on cenotaphs. Some of their mortal remains are laid in neat rows, in Flanders fields where poppies blow. Some remains could not be retrieved. They speak of senseless lonely deaths, meant to tell us “Never again!”
But the world blundered on into other wars, with endless cemeteries and memorials, and broken, grieving families left to manage as best they could. Nothing new here. There have been epidemics in the past which have felled millions: bubonic plague, cholera, typhus, polio — the list goes on. We have made such strides in combatting disease that we have come to think we are immortal despite all evidence to the contrary. We travel the world, for business and for pleasure, and in the year 2020 we were suddenly faced with a worldwide epidemic — a pandemic. We are not used to this! We expect to die, if we think about it, quietly in our beds in old age, with family around us. This is not what 2020 has brought. This pandemic has shaken us to the core. It will pass, but how are we to honor its victims?
As we struggle to come to grips, if ever we can, with the astounding numbers of “fallen” across the worldwide COVID-19 battlefield, we need to memorialize them. Too many died alone, without even a decent funeral. There will not be COVID-19 cemeteries with row on row of neat crosses or other symbols. Each family must grieve in their own way. But as a society, I have a suggestion: let us plant bulbs.
In Flanders fields it was poppies that became emblematic of the ravages of war, symbols of bright but fragile hope for the future. Our world has many climates; so too does the U.S.A. So, let us plant what will grow in our region:
Let us plant snowdrops, those pure, white, innocent flowers that push through the snow, to remind us of the babes and infants whose lives were snuffed out almost before they began.
Then let us plant crocuses for the children we have lost, fully-formed personalities, full of energy, yet still delicate, multicolored, each beautiful in their own way.
And then let us plant tulips for the adults, a few of whose memorials we have seen on our television news, fine, upstanding, multi-ethnic, vibrant members of their communities who contributed in so many irreplaceable ways. This virus cut them down in their prime.
And let the many astonishing varieties of daffodils, lilies, irises, speak to us of our seniors, who birthed us and nurtured us and lived lives as best they knew how, whose peaceful old age was ruthlessly cut short and who died bereft of our loving touch as they took their last breaths.
And let us keep the most splendid of all, the amazing bulb that often graces our joyous Christmas celebrations, the amaryllis, to represent the doctors, the nurses, and all members of our caring communities, who gave their all to protect us.
These bulbs, left to themselves, will increase as the years go by. Let us plant them beside our houses, hospitals, churches, schools. We must not let this plague be forgotten. Our children must know that next time — and there surely will be a next time — we will be better prepared.
We will remember them.
Rosemary Kew is originally from England where the two minute solemn silence on November 11 continues to this day. A retired college professor and a clergy spouse, she currently resides in Franklin, Tennessee.