While Lily sits with August, Rosaleen, and June in the kitchen, May goes out by herself and does not return. Eventually, the other women go out to find her. She is not by the wailing wall. They call the police, but, before the police arrive, they find May’s body drowned in the river. She has committed suicide. When the police come, they interrogate Lily and tell her that living with Black women is beneath her dignity. Everyone prepares to hold a vigil, and the Daughters of Mary arrive with a large amount of food. The next day, Zach is freed from jail and comes to pay his respects to May’s body. Lily feels very close to the whole community—sensing that there is no difference between her and the others, even though she is white. August and Lily drape the hives in black cloth so that the bees can mourn symbolically. On the second day of the vigil, August finds May’s suicide note and reads it with June. It urges them both to live their lives fully. August interprets this to mean that May wants June to marry Neil. They hold the vigil for four days straight. It is the end of Lily’s first month in Tiburon.
May’s funeral changes Lily’s entire routine. Lily finds herself missing the usual daily activities. She also notices a subtle change in Zach after his time in jail. She begs him to not end up angry and violent, as bad as a white racist. He promises that he will not. After a week of mourning, things begin to return to normal. For dessert, August serves Lily and her favorite: Coca-Cola with peanuts in it. Lily, who was staying in May’s bed during the vigil, decides to move back into the honey house, where she can have more privacy. The next morning, Lily wakes to find the other women in a celebratory mood. They inform her that today is Mary Day and that they are going to bake cakes, hang lights, and pray to Our Lady of Chains during a two-day feast and festival in honor of the Assumption of Mary. In the middle of all their preparations, Neil arrives and in front of everyone asks for June’s hand in marriage. She says yes immediately.
The rest of the day is spent getting ready, decorating, and baking. At
Although May’s suicide is violent and sad, her death leads Lily to some positive realizations. The trauma of May’s death disturbs Lily’s routine and causes her to realize just how happy she has become in the Boatwright house. The time that August and June spend mourning for May allows Lily time to contemplate the meaning of her time in Tiburon, and she discovers that this is the place where her heart truly resides. While she mourns for May, Lily also thinks less about her mother and the loss she associates with the maternal relationship. In addition, she begins to understand the degree to which Rosaleen has adjusted to the lifestyle they lead with the Boatwright sisters. Not only does she realize that in losing May Rosaleen lost a best friend, but she comes to recognize that August loves Rosaleen as well and considers her just as much part of the family as any other Daughter of Mary. In this way, the trauma of May’s death has some long-lasting beneficial effects.
Although May’s death is heartbreaking, her suicide is not a complete surprise. The suicide of May’s twin, April, during their childhood left May emotionally handicapped. August and June developed many techniques to help May deal with her depression, and they were always sensitive to her feelings. But May was not a healthy person, and her illness, which could be called manic depression, eventually led to her death. For August and June, losing a sister is a traumatic loss, but it also helps them realize they have gained a type of sister in Rosaleen and a type of daughter in Lily. The fact that Mary Day follows right after the mourning period for May also allows them to act out May’s dying wishes: the remaining sisters begin to live again almost immediately. Mary Day, a holiday named by May, gives them an opportunity to celebrate and mourn at the same time. In the midst of their mourning, Neil proposes and June accepts, yet another sign of life moving forward. Because of their strong religious beliefs, they are able to thank Mary for the time they did get to share with May while she was still alive.
Kidd centrally situated the act of beekeeping in The Secret Life of Bees, so the bees must mourn for May as well. After May has died, and before they even have the funeral, August asks Lily to help her shroud the beehives in black cloth. According to August, this symbolic act originated in ancient Greece, where beekeeping also originated. The Greeks covered the beehives in cloth because they believed the bees themselves represented the soul of the deceased humans and the fact that their souls will be resurrected in the afterlife: “When a bee flies, a soul will rise.” August explains to Lily that placing the black cloth over the hives serves as a reminder to those mourning May that she will be resurrected into heaven. In this way, Kidd uses August and Lily’s interaction with the bees to teach readers about August’s spiritual world. Kidd also reminds us of the way we must employ external symbols, such as the Mary statue and the black cloth, as reminders of the internal world that we cannot see but which guides, influences, and affects us.