50: Flowers that Never Die

50: Flowers that Never Die

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Flowers that Never Die

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.

~Basho

Hospital beds are miserable places. Mine seemed to swallow me up. I was six years old and wanted to go home. My throat hurt and no one was offering me ice cream. The children’s book my parents had read to me about having my tonsils removed said the hospital would give me some ice cream. Where was my ice cream? I was mad. No ice cream.

Nothing had happened that day the way I had been told. Even in the operating room. The book said I would count backwards from 100, then go to sleep. Instead, the hospital staff put a strange blindfold on me. For a moment, I saw flashes of colored light and then went to sleep. And I had practiced counting backwards.

It had been a difficult day and now I faced a long night. A long night, but as it turned out, not a lonely night. Although Mom had returned home to care for my baby sister, my wonderful, loving father was there. All night. Relaxing in his presence, I fell asleep. When I woke up not long afterward, Dad was asleep on the floor beside my bed. Not able to speak above a raspy whisper, I wondered how to wake him. I needed Dad to give me water, hug me, and comfort me. Searching for an idea, I looked around the room, stopping at the box of tissues on my nightstand. Reaching over, I pulled one out, and dropped it by the side of my bed hoping it would fall onto Dad.

My idea worked. Instantly, Dad was on his feet tending to my every need. He told me to drop a tissue whenever I needed him. I dropped a lot of tissues that night. Each time, Dad was instantly beside me. He never complained. Not once. His constant presence that long night was a gift of love.

Dad gave me another gift of love the following year when I was swallowed up by another hospital bed. This time, I was a thousand miles from home and flattened by severe cystitis, a bladder infection.

The infection had developed during my family’s annual visit to my grandmother’s house. I hated going to my grandmother’s house. There simply wasn’t anything for a kid to do. Now, on top of being bored, I was in pain and confined to bed.

Before I became too depressed over my lousy summer, a series of special gifts lifted my spirits. My mother gave me the gift of her loving presence, rarely leaving my side. My grandmother sent me a large portion of the “thank you” bouquet her Sunday school students had sent to her. My aunt and uncle presented me with a batch of peonies and snapdragons. Peonies to remind me of Peony Park, the city’s amusement park. Snapdragons because I enjoyed squeezing them open and shut.

The most beautiful flowers were yet to come, however. Dad brought them — a tiny vase of plastic flowers.

“These flowers,” he said as he handed them to me, “represent my love for you. Not that it’s artificial but that it will never die.”

I hugged the vase to my chest.

Over the next few years, Dad continued to envelop me in his boundless love. Then, one day, he was gone.

I was sixteen.

I lost Dad’s physical presence that day but his gifts of love have never left me.

When my eight-year-old nephew, Andrew, underwent a tonsillectomy, I sent him a Pittsburgh Steelers box of tissues along with the story of my tonsillectomy, the hospital box of tissues, and the grandfather he never knew.

Andrew still has the tissue box.

The tiny vase of flowers sits in my bedroom. And sitting on Dad’s grave, there are always artificial flowers. Always. These flowers represent my love for him, not that it is artificial but that it will never die.

~Kathy Irey

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