Tending My Rose Garden

Tending My Rose Garden

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

Tending My Rose Garden

The zipper wouldn’t budge. I inhaled deeply, sucked in my gut and buttoned the top button on the slacks. Then I yanked the zipper closed and exhaled. I gazed at myself in the dressing room mirror.

I looked like a stuffed sausage!

“Here you go!” a sickeningly cheerful voice chirped on the other side of the dressing room door.

Grimacing, I pulled open the door and reached for the clothes the saleswoman handed me. “I brought you a dress to try, too!” Seeing my look of frustration, she cooed, “The larger sizes will probably fit, dear. I’m sure one of them will work!”

“I just had a baby, okay?” I snarled and slammed the door on her astonished face. Well, maybe not just… my youngest child was twenty-five years old!

Okay, so I lied. I have children — grown children — but this changing body of mine feels like it is going through the upheaval of pregnancy.

It’s called menopause (or mean-o-pause as my husband whispers to our family when he thinks I don’t hear him). My body was betraying me, I thought, as I looked in the mirror. I’d gone up two sizes in the last couple of years. Could that really be me in the mirror? I looked like my grandmother when I tried that dress! Why did they have such hideous lighting in these dressing rooms?

My belly protruded, my skin sagged, and my double chins were highlighted in the three-way mirror. Tears stung my eyes as I tried on the next item.

I was done shopping. I left without a purchase and went home dejected. My fiftieth birthday was approaching and a party was planned. I realized I had avoided shopping because I didn’t want to subject myself to the exact kind of humiliation I had just experienced.

“I’ll wear something I already have to the party!” I wailed to my sister, JoAnn. “You just wait! You’ll be in the same boat next year. Fifty is terrifying!” My sister was thirteen months and thirteen days younger.

I continued my rant, “When I tend my rose garden, I’ve often thought women are like roses. When we hit puberty, we are like the bud on a rose. When that bud unfurls, it’s magical. Slowly, like a girl growing into womanhood, the rosebud transforms into a full and beautiful rose. The flower brightens the garden and draws your eye. Eventually, a petal drifts down to the ground, and then another petal, the way women start to lose their looks as they age. When all the petals fall off — well, you know.”

“Aah, stop your bellyaching!” my sister chided me. “You’ll probably wear your usual black and white!”

The following year came. When JoAnn turned fifty years old, she looked like a skeleton. Family and friends whispered about her shocking appearance. She brushed us off, saying it had been a bad year. Our mother had died suddenly and JoAnn’s husband lost his job that year. JoAnn said she was stressed, plus she was working extra hours to earn more money.

At a holiday gathering just before Christmas, I watched her toy with her food. I half-heartedly joked, “It’s not fair. I’m short and you’re tall. I get fat and you get skinnier.” Deep down, though, I was very concerned.

A few days later, my other sister, Janice, telephoned me. “JoAnn collapsed and is in the hospital. She’s in critical condition. I’ll call you when they know what’s wrong.”

Terrified, I hung up the telephone. When Janice called me back, she told me JoAnn had “the disease.” In our family, that meant polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Our mother had PKD and Janice has PKD and now JoAnn had it, too. It is a genetic disease that causes many cysts to grow and cover the kidneys, causing them to fail. There is no cure. The only treatment is dialysis — a machine that cleanses your blood the way your kidneys do — or transplantation.

I knew “the disease” well. Many of the people I loved most battled it. Eight family members lost their lives to PKD including our mother and grandmother, aunts and uncles. One of our cousins died while waiting for a kidney transplant.

I knew what JoAnn’s life would be like because our mother had spent almost ten years of her life on dialysis. I knew there are not enough organ donors. When I finally talked to JoAnn, I blurted, “JoAnn, I will give you one of my kidneys.”

Despite her own situation, JoAnn was concerned for me. She didn’t take my offer seriously. One, she wanted me to be sure I didn’t have the disease. Two, she didn’t think I’d have the courage to give her a kidney. She knew I was terrified of hospitals, needles and illness.

I didn’t have the disease. I did give her one of my kidneys.

Twelve weeks before the surgery, I hired a personal trainer and got myself in the best shape I could before surgery. On the morning of the transplant, raw emotion made her voice raspy when JoAnn whispered, “I didn’t think you’d be here! You can change your mind, you know!” She had told me that many times during the months before the surgery.

“I didn’t think I’d be here either, but I’m not changing my mind,” I told her as I went off to surgery.

The surgery was a success; we are both well. Seven years later, JoAnn lives a normal life, although she will always have the disease and need medication.

I had forgotten to closely observe the roses in my garden. After a rosebud blossoms into a flower and loses its petals, a rose hip appears on the cane where the rosebud began. Rose hips are lovely, useful and another part of the rose’s beauty. Rose hips turn a stunning red color in autumn. I’m in the rose hip cycle of life.

A body blessed without disease humbled me. It responds well to good nutrition, exercise and a balanced life. My body is a glorious, magical, fabulous wonder. Despite its bulges, sagging parts, varicose veins, calluses, wrinkles, stretch marks and scars, it performs the magic we call life each day. Life!

Giving one of my body parts to keep that magic alive in my sister fills me with gratitude and awe. My body is a temple I give thanks for each day.

~ Suzanne F. Ruff ~

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