17: The Rose

17: The Rose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

The Rose

Flowers are those little colorful beacons of the sun from which we get sunshine when dark, somber skies blanket our thoughts.

~Dodinsky

“The surgery went well. Your husband will be in the recovery room for several hours. You should go home and get some rest.”

The surgeon patted my arm and stood to go. When the waiting room door swung shut behind him, I released an exhausted sigh. Six agonizing hours earlier, I had kissed my husband’s forehead as he was wheeled to the operating room where the surgeon would remove a large, cancerous tumor from his colon.

We never suspected that John’s routine colonoscopy would turn out to be anything but. The initial cancer diagnosis was followed by days of soul-sucking stress as we waited for test results, appointments with specialists, and calls from the hospital’s scheduling department. So far, the prognosis was cautiously optimistic. The tumor appeared to be contained, in spite of its size. According to the surgeon, we were incredibly lucky.

I stood and stretched. Maybe I’d take his advice. A quick trip home would allow me to take in the mail and pick up a few things I needed for my stay in the hospital. As I drove home in the dazzling Florida sunshine, I inhaled the salty air and tried to exhale the anxiety that had overwhelmed my life for the past week.

I was dragging myself up the walk to my front door when a splash of color caught my eye. On the scrawny branch of a rose bush we had given up as lost, I saw a bloom the size of a saucer. How could I have missed that on the way out this morning? I shook my head, thinking that I must have been too preoccupied with the impending surgery to notice. Still…

I bent to get a closer look. The bush was as dry and scraggly as ever, but the rose was flawless. Each petal was the color of the roseate spoonbills that waded in the nearby lagoon and was tipped with a buttercream yellow. The flower seemed to glow from within. As I stared at it, I had a sudden image of my mother-in-law’s face. John was the center of her life. Nothing brought her more joy than seeing her son happy. She also loved roses and coaxed the most amazing blossoms from her tiny patch of garden. She even wore rosewater cologne.

I’ve heard it said that the sense of smell triggers the strongest memories. These particular roses gave off a fragrance almost identical to that cologne. When the bush was new, John would cut the roses and bring them inside. He said the smell made him feel as if his mother was somewhere in the house instead of resting beside her husband in the mausoleum at Eagleton Cemetery.

On a whim, I decided to bring the rose to the hospital. It might be good for John to have this small touch of home. I took the pruning shears from the garage and clipped the prickly stem. Then I tossed the rose onto the back seat of the car and went into the house.

By the time I pulled back into the hospital parking lot, I’d forgotten about the rose. I gathered up my things and was about to close the car door when a breeze caressed my face, carrying the scent of roses. What did I do with that flower? Then I remembered. I reached into the back seat, picked up the rose, and hurried into the building.

John was asleep when I opened the door to his room. I slipped inside, careful not to wake him, and dumped the rose, my purse, and my overnight bag onto the futon where I would sleep. Then I pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down, taking my husband’s limp hand. I stared at his sleeping face until my eyes grew heavy. At the edge of sleep, I thought I heard my mother-in-law’s voice. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Everything will be fine.” A feeling of peace enveloped me, driving away all the doubt and fear that had taken root in my heart.

I was startled awake when a nurse with a stethoscope draped around her neck pushed through the door. She sniffed the air. “It smells really good in here,” she said. “What perfume are you wearing?”

“It’s not my perfume,” I answered.

After the nurse left, I filled a glass with water for the rose. I was surprised to see that it hadn’t wilted. I poked the stem into the glass and placed it on the bedside table. John stirred in his sleep. “Ma?” he whispered, the ghost of a smile curving his lips. I leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Everything will be fine.”

In the days that followed, John amazed everyone with his rapid recovery. Every so often, he would take the rose and inhale its fragrance as if breathing in some life-giving essence. By the end of the week, he was well enough to be discharged. His test results showed no evidence of cancer, and the oncologist said he wouldn’t even need chemotherapy.

As we prepared to leave the hospital, I noticed the rose on the bedside table. My first impulse was to leave it there since we had so many other things to carry. But the bloom looked as fresh and perfect as the day I picked it, so I wrapped the stem in a wet paper towel and carried it out to the car. John held it under his nose all the way home.

Once we were settled in, I put the rose in a crystal bud vase that had belonged to John’s mother and set it on the dresser in our bedroom. The scent perfumed the air as we slept. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of John singing in the shower. I smiled at the wonderful normalcy of it all. Everything would be fine.

Suddenly, a fluttering movement, like the wings of a butterfly, caught my eye. I glanced at the dresser in time to see the last rose petal join its companions on the bedroom floor.

“Goodbye, Mom,” I whispered. “And thank you.”

~Jackie Minniti

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