Springing to Life (and Death)

Spring is bittersweet for me. Anyone who has spent any time with me recently knows I am straight up giddy about the longer days and warmer weather. My Chaco tanline is already making a solid comeback. I spend every moment I possibly can outside. In fact, I’m writing this on my balcony at this very moment. Everything feels new and filled with possibility after a long, cold, dark, cooped up winter. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part? My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer as the last snow of the year was melting. When I first started driving home every few days to be with her and help with appointments, I was packing sweaters and boots. It wasn’t long before I was staring at my sandal wearing feet in the waiting room. As the weather is changing and spring is springing, I am constantly reminded of what life was like for me during the Spring of 2015.

Every year, my mom and dad spent hours planning and planting their gardens all around the house. They would pick out the most beautiful flowers and plant them with love (and in my mom’s opinion, too much fertilizer applied by my dad). The spring she got sick was no different. Although she could no longer drive because of the effects of the radiation, she would ask me to stop at the greenhouse after appointments. She would ask me which flowers I liked and explained which ones grew best in different conditions and which ones were her favorites. This wasn’t the first time she told me these things, but this was the first time I truly listened. I wanted to soak up everything I possibly could so that I could someday have my own beautiful gardens and carry that piece of her with me always. She was usually too weak and tired to do much of the gardening herself, but she loved to sit outside as the weather got warmer and tell us exactly how she wanted the flower beds planted. Every year, she tried to pick out a theme for all of her flowers. Once she asked me if I knew why she picked all red flowers that year. “Because the Cardinals are the best team in baseball? Because the Badgers made it to the National Championship game recently? Because my brother and I went to Carthage?” I asked. “Because I’m going to fight this thing like a bull,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Only my mom would look at a garden theme as sending a message to such an ugly disease. She always told me to kill my enemies with kindness. Apparently she was going to use nature’s beauty to kill her cancer.

Before I left to go back to work one Sunday afternoon, she insisted that I plant my own pots to take back with me. I told her it wasn’t necessary, that I would be home again in a few days to enjoy her beautiful flowers with her. She insisted. She picked out what would do best on the balcony of my apartment. She helped me fill the pots with dirt and place the flowers just right. She gave me very specific watering directions. As I left our neighborhood, I took a turn too hard and knocked all of the pots over, spilling dirt and smooshing the flowers all over my car. WHOOPS! I cleaned it up, set the pots on my balcony, and honestly forgot about them. I was a bit preoccupied with life.

If we are being completely honest, I was also angry at flowers. And spring. And everything coming to life all around me as my mom was fading away. It almost felt like the greening grassy, budding trees, and blooming flowers were mocking me. Everything was being made anew and bursting with life while my mom’s was slipping away right in front of us.

My mom never felt that way though. She loved to sit outside and enjoy the world coming to life around her. Her and my dad would go to a lookout over the river when they had time between appointments. When she had visitors, she liked to sit with them on our back porch. She soaked in the changes happening all around her and saw the beauty in it all. She always was wiser than me.

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The first official day of summer came and she left us not long after. A new season was upon us and her flowers were everywhere to remind us of the beauty that remained in the wake of our overwhelming loss. When I went back to my apartment to pack up to move out in August, I went out on my balcony to bring in my outdoor furniture and I saw my flower pots. To my amazement, they were in full bloom. It had been hot and weeks since it had last rained. I had completely neglected them for months. And yet there they were, as beautiful as ever. I have to believe heaven has access to a watering can.

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So these days, spring is filled with giddiness, nostalgia, and sadness. I’m thankful for the new life springing up all around me, but I can’t help but hurt for the life that faded away as everything was blooming. The grief shows up like an unexpected spring thunderstorm. The dark clouds roll in and the thunder shakes me to my core. But the rain also gives me what I need to grow. And I’m reminded to take a page from my mom’s book and soak in the beauty all around me, in spite of what is going on within me.

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