It is the anniversary of Ben’s death today. A year without him and our family still swings between denial, disbelief and dedication to loving each other while helping one another through the really bad days. (And there are bad days, as expected.)
I had promised months ago I would share some of the stories (miracles, really) of things that have taken place since his passing and yet when I’d go to write the words and they were stuck between my head, my fingers and my heart.
But then I took a creative non-fiction class at a community college this fall and I was able to open the tap on those stories and emotions a tiny bit.
The first story I’d like to share with you is all about the flowers, pink roses to be exact, and the way they brightened our life in the time after Ben left us.
First, The Flowers.
I’ve never been particularly keen on roses.
It’s not that I don’t think they are pretty or sweet smelling, I just believe them to be pompous.
The truth is that it’s probably the people who send them who are actually the culprits and deserving of my scorn but when I think of roses my first thought is normally, “eh. They try too hard” as if the flowering buds were responsible for their own breeding, capable of telling their own history and calculating their own worth.
My brother never liked flowers because his allergies rendered him helpless around them. Yet, he was often a romantic fool so I am sure he loved watching the light rise in the face of the woman he bestowed them on even if it meant he needed to bark and plead with them later that they must take the said gift immediately from the room because he couldn’t breathe.
Life is funny.
I never held a fondness for the flower the way other women do.
But then something happened.
And it all started the day he died.
He’d been hooked up to machines for days as we prepared his organs for donation. Snow had fallen and Christmas music was playing everywhere while we were said our first goodbyes to a man gone far too soon. The morning they declared him my family took a deep breath and piled into a car on the hunt for a funeral home.
It’s not normally the kind of trip that lends itself to frivolity yet I I can imagine there were just as many tears as there were small sobs of laughter inside that vehicle s they set off. My step dad at the wheel with my sister-in-law next to him in her new role as widow with her mother, my sister and my mother respectively taking up all the room across the back seat. And it would only make sense that my mom, deep in grief and denial would think she could sneak a smoke in the back seat without disapproving eyes and opinion so the way the stories always been told to me goes like this:
(It’s worth mentioning now that we’d all been been praying and hoping for a miracle. As Catholics that included reaching out to the saints of our faith , in particular, my sister- in- law’s mom’s was beseeching St. Theresa better known as the Little Flower to the faithful to bring comfort and peace to my brother during his passing. She reminded us often that if the saint heard and answered your prayers she would send pink roses to you. )
My mom lowered her window to enjoy a hit of nicotine when the car was stopped at a light in the middle of a questionable neighborhood in Maryland. From her seat my mom noticed a man in a dark parka walking down the sidewalk with his entire upper body obscured by green tissue paper. Obvious he was carrying a bouquet of some kind so as he drew closer my mom yelled into the cold air: “some lady is surely lucky today.”
He never broke his stride as the people in the car tensed and he drew closer, the large arrangement bobbing in the winter wind. As he came upon the car he motioned for my mom to lower her window even more. She obliged, hesitantly, and when the opening was big enough, he set the bouquet in her lap.
“I think you might need these more than I do. Have a lovely day.”
Nothing else was said or done as he made his way to the opposite sidewalk, not even the expected stop at the driver’s side of the car to demand money, he simply kept walking. My mother unwrapped the flowers and peered down into a lapful of petite pink roses. Her own tears mixing with the audible gasps of her fellow car mates.
Handing them to them my sister-in-law in the front seat, the girl reverently touched the petals and said, “he never really sent flowers, but when he did, to the office of course with strict instructions to leave them there, it was always pink roses.”
That in and of itself would have been an excellent story to be retold even if there was all there was; a miracle born of serendipity and comfort given to us when we needed it most.
But you must know by now that it isn’t the end of the tale.
Two weeks after his funeral and far too close to my favorite holiday my mom called with tears in her voice.
“Do you remember the angel I got for Emily?” she said. “I just realized how much your brother would have hated it. It’s all pastel colors and she’s smiling, but you’ll never believe what is running down the length of her robes?”
I didn’t need to guess.
“Tiny pink rosebuds.”
I felt the tears sting the corners of my eyes as I realized the connotation of the flower I shunned.
But in my heart it was a bit of cold comfort because these events were also happening to other people other . I felt the connection and the significance but I didn’t have a place in it, my belief that Ben was offering us comfort from the afterlife was coming from outside myself.
Until Christmas day when I opened a gift from my niece.
A silver bracelet encouraging me to “love this life” sat in the tissue paper. I lifted it and pinched the hinge, easing it over my knuckles and allow it to settle on my arm. I shook my wrist to allow the charms to bump and tinkle against one another.
I hugged my niece for the gift and took a closer look at it as it spun around my wrist. My breath caught and my heart opened. My brother had sent me a Christmas gift too, next to the words meant to motivate and encourage my own living was a small delicate silver rosebud and nestled next to it an undeniably pink bauble.
I don’t know how long it will take me to write and share the remaining three stories about angels, butterflies and pennies but I hope that if you come here and read this story it will help me write the others.
Thank you for your love and care this past year, it has made all the difference.
Linking with Shell for some much needed heart pouring.