The Elsifor family has been a part of Ann Arbor for more than one hundred years. My mother died five years ago in February; this June, she would have been seventy-four years old. She died suddenly, but we knew she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes cast into the Huron River close to her home. Her parents had bought a plot for her years before her death, but she chose not to accept it, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish I had at least a headstone to visit. Maybe that was why I chose to visit Forest Hills Cemetery a few weeks before Mom’s birthday. I’ve been looking for a place to walk with her again.

I pass through the wrought iron gate, greeted by a monolith topped by a statue of a soldier. A marker explains that the sculpture honors those who served in the Civil War. To the right and up a slight slope are statues of angels. I turn left, follow a gentle path, and read the stories of family after family, the surnames on a central marker and circling stones for each family member.

My mother was hard to love. Her life was shadowed by the death of her brother, who drowned when she was fifteen. She adopted out three children and lost another to the state under allegations of abuse, leaving only my baby sister Terri and me. I took care of my mother most of my life, and we struggled with a love-hate relationship for most of those years, until I myself went into counseling. There, I grew to understand her bipolar illness, and learned to forgive.

Gray skies threaten one more spring shower. Though my Mom isn’t buried here, nor any other member of the Elsifor family, I am strangely at peace. Squirrels and chipmunks chase one another. Robins sing from the trees. Though the grounds are beautifully kept and clean, I’m troubled to see so few bouquets of fresh flowers. It’s as if everyone else has said their final goodbyes and somehow I still can’t.

After walking for nearly thirty minutes, I am beginning to feel lost in the vastness of a semicircle when I find an exit. To my surprise I am at an open gate leading to the U-M’s Reader Center on the grounds of Nichols Arboretum. The peonies are in full bloom.

I take the thoughts of my Mom on an easier walk down an aisle of colorful flowers, stopping at red, white, and deep pink blooms, amazed at their large size. My Mom’s favorite flowers were gladioli, not peonies, but she loved grassy fields and tall trees. I stay on the path and take her down a gradual hill into what is called the Council Ring. It smells of sweet oak and wild berries.

Maybe because Elsifor women are redheads, this path makes me think of Little Red Riding Hood. In this place and time, I feel surrounded by generations of family.

In the Arboretum, it becomes clear to me why Mom chose to be cremated. I don’t need a headstone to talk to her. Every day, she is next to me. Walking beside me and listening to every word.