Saskia Kirkegaard writes about her grandmother and the significance of the spring flower, daffodil.
Before my Grandma died, I thought very little about daffodils. They were just another plant in the catalogue of Flowers I Should Probably Know About. Tall, spindly green leaves that arrived in late February, with large, bright yellow heads that came about a week later. I knew they didn’t smell of much, that they were born from bulbs buried deep within the ground, and that they had some importance in Wales. They were very pretty, sure, but I felt no deep connection to them. They represented very little.
My Grandmother had been ‘not right’ for a little while before she went to hospital. My mum went to visit her in early February of 2017, around the time of her birthday, and noticed that she was having trouble spelling her own name. My Grandma, who had always been so sure of herself and her identity – as a weaver, as an adventurer, as a mother, as a neighbour and as a member of the North Norfolk community where she had lived for decades. A brain tumour was found, and she was put in a hospital bed in early March. The whole family came from Cardiff and London to visit her, and what do you bring to somebody in hospital? Flowers. And which type of flowers were abundant in supermarkets across the UK at that point in the year? Daffodils. This was where my love for the nodding, sunshine-coloured blooms began.
Granny P (which is what she decided her grandchildren should call her when I was born) was surrounded by daffodils when we visited her on that rainy spring day. Her bed was right at the end of the ward, by the window, and the sill seemingly creaked under the weight of vase after vase of the things. She wasn’t really up for talking, so we just sat next to her on cold blue hospital chairs and looked at the fields of yellow. I remember how upset I had been before going to see her, but how thankful I was to go and talk to her, surrounded by these seemingly simple petals that appeared to hold her essence in that metal hospital room. She died in September, in a care home near her house. Although I wasn’t told until a few days later, I saw a beautiful sunset almost at the exact time it happened, and I felt something switch in the air.
Since then, every time I see a daffodil, I send my Grandma a message. Usually just a little hello, or a ‘how are you’. I’m not a religious person, but there’s a grounding in this tradition that I think is very important. A meditation on life, death, the mysteries behind it. A small celebration that I can do quietly for myself. Obviously, it also means that I’m talking to her much more around the end of February than I am in, say, December, but I tend to think about her more at that time of year, anyway.
Her birthday was the 7th of February, and this year I noticed my thoughts gravitating towards her a lot in the week leading up to it, almost without realising. It had been a tough transition back to university after the Christmas holidays, and I wished I could tell her about how it was all going. I wanted her to see me now, at eighteen, doing my dream course at university, and it felt unfair that her resounding impression of me would forever be an awkward thirteen-year-old who didn’t talk to her as much as I wanted to. I ruminated on how she must have felt the year of her final illness. The worry, the fear that might have kept her up at night. Or did she look towards the future with the quiet stoicism that had kept her going through the war, or the death of her husband? I hoped it was the latter, but my mind still raced.
I began to notice the little green shoots appearing more and more as I lurched towards the date and texted my mum the night before to send my love. It was a Monday, the day I usually do my food shop, and so I wanted to buy a bunch of daffodils in Sainsbury’s for £1, thinking I could display them on the windowsill of my tiny room. A tiny message to her. They weren’t selling them yet. I was about a week too early. Defeated, disappointed and stressed, I got the bus back to my halls, thinking about her the whole way there. I probably absent-mindedly bumped into someone with my shopping bag, my mind and body unconnected as usual. I missed her so much.
As I walked up the hill from the bus stop towards my accommodation block, I suddenly saw a hint of gold at the top. I walked towards it, lugging my grocery bags in my aching fists. There it was. The first daffodil of the year after a very tough winter. The first sign of spring. Finally, some hope that the hardest part of the year was coming to an end. That we were being given a new chance to get things right, a new beginning. A reminder, much like the one given to Narcissus in that Greek myth, to think about others instead of myself. Most importantly, it was a clear, distinct message of love from my Grandmother. I paused, took a deep breath and a photo, and said hello.