So what’s with all the sunflowers?
We laid him in a box decorated with blue skies and sunflowers in a church filled with huge stands of sunflowers. After that day, friends of ours, and of Nico’s, gave us sunflower gifts to remember him by. They still do. Sunflowers have become a kind of shorthand reference not just for remembering my son Nico, but also for the lives of so many others. Lives which blazed out, filling the world with colour, hope and love. Lives that were then cut short, when they didn’t need to be. Lives which are not forgotten.
Sunflowers were never my favourite flower. I can remember enjoying the sight of huge fields of sunflowers in the warm evening sun in Spain but I was not “a sunflower person”, if there is such a thing. It was not that we chose the sunflowers for Nico. Is was as if they chose us. It felt like a decision made without us and simply handed on, for us to enact. As soon we saw the photo of what his box would look like with a bright blue sky above a field of shining sunflowers, there was no decision, no choice to be made. It spoke to us. The decision made itself.
When I began my Twitter page and started to talk about Nico, the use of the sunflower as an emblem was again, a natural, almost organic thing that required no planning. Then, for the one-year anniversary of his death I changed my profile picture on Twitter to a sunflower and I asked people who followed me to do the same. Not just to remember Nico that day, but also to remember all the precious and loved young people who had died needless deaths, deaths by indifference, by neglect, by poor practice and by ignorance.
For all bereaved people anniversaries are very hard. I already knew no matter what I did or didn’t do it was never going to be an easy day. But I wanted to do something which reached out to people, especially those who had also lost their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sister and brothers, friends and loved ones to bad care, poor care and straightforward neglect.
I wanted to fill the world with sunflowers on that day– for Nico, for everyone, for all of us. Inviting people to join us with changing their profile photo to a sunflower was risky. I was making myself vulnerable on a day when I was already without skin.
In my mind it would be a day in which everyone who wanted to, could change their profile pictures on social media to a photo of a sunflower. I changed mine that first year at midnight and went to bed.
I was woken out a deep sleep by Nico calling to me and I shot out of bed and rushed next door to his bedroom as I have so many, many times. Just for a moment I thought he was lying in his bed, but it was only the grey morning light playing tricks on my half-asleep brain. I went back into our room and looked at the clock. It was 5.47am. I looked out of the window at that cold grey early morning light and remembered the phone call we had received at 6.00am on that morning. We don’t keep a phone in our bedroom now.
By 8.30am my Twitter feed was starting to fill up with sunflowers as one by one, the Twitter world came to life and began to turn yellow. Some people were inventive and went for funny sunflowers, cool sunflowers and sunflowers photographed in unusual places, some went for downright amazingly beautiful sunflowers and some put up photos of sunflowers which were already circulating on Twitter. It didn’t matter- all the sunflowers were wonderful. By 7.30pm we were trending on Twitter (not in the top 10, so don’t get too excited) and after spending the whole day on Twitter I was exhausted.
This coming Saturday will be another year, another anniversary. It’s always a struggle, trying to remember with gratitude, and without pain, all the details of Nico’s life except for that one day. I know that for so many bereaved people it’s a ceaseless battle -particularly for those lost in the “care” of others, trying not to let that one day and the details of that one day, overshadow all the memories of all the other days.
It’s terribly hard to remember his bright shining life without the shadow of that one, that one awful day casting it’s pall. I am determined to not let that be his life’s defining day. They’ll be no balloons, no party, no gathering this year on 22 August. Nico’s sister, his sister from another mother and I all have our sunflower tattoos. We try every day to make those sunflowers a bright remembrance of a life that brought the sun into our world in so many ways and I just can’t let his sun go out. But I know that just like every other year, this year will be hard.
They’ll be sunflowers here this year, again. Again……..