Show me the Roses
A dedication to my late mother
By Brad Higgens
With a special thanks to my good friend Lynne for all you do.
Show me the roses,” she said, barely able to speak. Her voice was croaky and rough, but she could through some effort, make her self understood. It had been twelve weeks and three days since the diagnosis. She knew she was dying. Her family knew she was too. When she asked to see her beloved roses, her husband was wheeling her out to the garden anyway.
Maybe it was in response to his voice suggesting it, or the smell of them drifting to her senses. All she knew for the moment, for moments was all she had left she had to see them one last time. For all she knew it might be the only chance she had before her mental faculties finally succumbed, and what was once a steel trap, quick witted and clever mind was now a wasteland of scattered thoughts and unconnected memories. Her roses were and had always been her love and joy. Seeing them one last time might bring back a few moments of happiness.
Memories of joy and pride circled the drain of her mind. Going round and around before they would be inevitably swallowed by the sink of forgetfulness. As the wheelchair gently bumped and wobbled over the back yard, she tried with some effort to open her eyes. Most things were a blur as her focus deteriorated from the effects of the morphine. It was the smell that hit her first. The lush sweet sent of the Olympic flames filled her crumbling mind with images of pinks and oranges.
“Here you are my love,” he said.
Her husband, faithful and true to their vows spoken thirty seven years ago – in sickness and health – delivered her to a moment in time. Not just any moment, but one so precious it might be the cure. The cancer might be eating away her body, but it would not rob her of her soul. With the same shear determination she lived by, she summoned all her reserve to open her eyes to see the roses for the last time.
There they were.
“Show me the roses,” she repeated, for no reason other than to say it again.
“There down there, my sweet,” he assured her softly, “right in front of you.”
As she had not the strength to bend or lift her body off of the confining wheelchair, he got behind her and lifted her from under the arms. This way he could prop her forward.
“See,” he spoke in a whisper so soft only she could hear it, “Full and fresh as they are every year.”
He was so strong and she must have been as light as a feather in his arms. There was nothing of her anyway. She was weak and her muscles had withered almost away.
“Do you see them, my love?” he asked.
“Yes,” she uttered, “I do.”
Slowly and with great care, he lowered her back to the chair. Just as she felt her bony bottom touch the seat, a wave of unforgiving fatigue washed over her. She didn’t need to let him know. He saw how she slumped and heard her breathing.
“Come on my darling,” he said, “I’ll take up, back to bed.”
“No,” she replied in short gasps, “Let me get my breath back first.”
“Okay.” And he knelt there beside her. They both looked at the roses as they waited for her to recover.
These roses were special because they had been planted they day they moved back in after the renovations were finished. That was four years ago now. She had put her heart and soul into the design and he had seen it through that she got what she wanted. Right down to the landscaping, she had expressed her character through out. The roses she picked for their smell and beauty. Like her they would wilt and the petals would fall to the ground. Unlike her they would be back next spring. But she could live on through them and the memories they would bring to those who had loved her.
Her son was there somewhere. She was proud of him. He had agreed to move back home to help his father care for her. She had taught him in his boyhood to look after himself. Empowering him to be able to cook, clean and work out his finances for his own sake. He was now a man who could think and concoct wonderful dishes based on her recipes. Having lived alone in the city and on a meager budget, he had done quite well.
All his life she had felt the strongest connection with him. Now as irony would have it he was now looking after them. She was very proud of him indeed. She had told him so before all this happened. Her only regret was she had to tell him on his birthday, last year. ‘Happy birthday, son. Your mother has terminal cancer and has three to six months to live.’
Her husband was a practical man who dealt with crises by buckling down and getting on with what needed to be done. He always just took the bull by the horns with no thought for himself. He always put others first. Oh, he was a stubborn man, but he always had good reason to be. It was never for nothing. He always had a reason for everything he did even if it wasn’t immediately obvious to others. She had put him first and he her. This was what their relationship was based on. Their love was unbreakable so long as this remained true.
In hindsight she may have handled something’s differently but at the end of the day she could never have loved her son or husband more. She knew that the three of them were such a tight knit group that pain or life’s uncertainties couldn’t penetrate them. She revelled in the feelings that overwhelmed her thinking of all the wonderful times they had spent together, singing, laughing, having drinks over wonderful food and stories. How they loved her sayings, her mantra was and would continue to be “make happy memories”.
With so little time left she struggled to bring clarity to her thoughts, wondering if she had taught them all she was supposed to, or she’d passed on lessons and love that would sustain them, and had she accomplished the purpose of her life, had she prepared them for her leaving, would they let her go on alone. “I can’t stay now I know it’s time for me to leave”.
“Ready now love?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she breathed, “Take me back to bed.”
Slowly he turned the wheelchair around and pushed it back to the patio. The squeal of the wheels and a light bump as the wheelchair was made to overcome the tiles. Solid ground now under them, the journey was easier. After the tiles was the carpet. Once they reached the stairs to go up to the bedroom, her husband had to coax her to stand. This took tremendous effort now. Where once in her childhood she could skip and dance, run and walk for hours. Now, with all agility stolen away she had to be help to stand let alone walk.
“I can’t do it, love,” she said shaking. She was concerned she might fall. Anticipating this, he said, “I’ll carry you.”
“No,” she said, now worried he might fall, “Hang on.”
“Okay,” he agreed patiently.
Steadying herself she held on to the railings for support. Behind her was her husband, guiding her along to make sure she would reach the top safely.
As she made each step, like a mountain climber not knowing if the next one was the last, she gradually made it. The irony not lost on her though.
“Remember when we built these stairs?” spoke her husband trying to keep her alert and her spirits up.
“You always dreamed of having a sweeping stair case.” He said again.
“Yes.” was all she could say. She managed a wry grin, remembering the joke they had made about Scarlet O’Hara from gone with the wind.
Now resting in bed, her mind was now wandering and all thought became a mess of blurry images and muffled sounds. Colours swirled in a kaleidoscope of shapes until they formed into recognizable images. Sometimes they were faces of people that had gone before her. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they were calling for her to guide her to the after life, if there was an after life. Or was it the morphine twisting the pain into a numb mirage of chemically re-awoken memories?
She saw her brother who had died some thirty years ago. She cried out for him but was quickly silenced by her concerned and confused husband.
“He isn’t here darling.”
But she could see him. Her brother was saying – “The roses are lovely.” It seemed logical and a typical thing he would say. It was he who had taught her the love of gardening. A few moments went by before another face appeared to her.
“Mum.” She cried.
“She isn’t here either, sweetheart.” said her bewildered husband. His voice croaking and close to tears.
But in her sickly mind, she was there. She could smell her distinct perfume – white roses.
“Are you in pain my dear?” prompted her husband.
She wasn’t but said yes anyway. She knew that the drug would help her sleep. If she could escape the disturbed wakefulness then she would be happier. In that state they wouldn’t have to worry and rest themselves. Even in her dieing she put her son and her husband first. It must have been difficult for them seeing her like this. She knew what it was like to nurse a dieing loved one. She had to do this for her mother twenty eight years ago. Soon she would go to join them. They were waiting just on the other side.
As she drifted off she wondered how things would be for her little family once she was gone. She hoped her son would find happiness. He had been so unhappy for so long and now this happens. If she could do it, if it was in her power she would get well again and live long enough to see him bloom, grow tall and proud of himself. Like a tree, like a mighty pine or even an enduring rose bush - strong and unyielding, bending with the wind but never to break. Producing good fruit in his life and discarding the bad.
She hoped her husband wouldn’t suffer too long. The last thing she ever wanted was for him to be alone. For him, the love of her life, he who had stood by her side and she his, together they had weathered life’s storms, but now she must leave him behind. How would he be after her passing? Even in her final moments she wished him happiness. She hoped he would find a new rose for his garden. Perhaps he would meet a woman who would treat him as well as she had. She would need deep understanding and great patience as he could be a difficult sometimes. She smiled when she thought of that, and the times they had fought and argued. He wasn’t a bad man, he was just a man. He could be stubborn and obstinate but that was one of the many traits she loved about him.
It was as though he had been planned for her like a gift that she now thanked the God for. Whenever she thought of him she could see the laughter in his eyes, his sweet smell, and the beautiful smile. She could see him so clearly in her mind. And how he loved to bring in the breakfast tray prepared with loving hands it always tasted so beautiful.
Drifting in and out of morphine induced drowsiness, she began to hallucinate again. Once she thought she was at a dinner party, one she had planned and cooked for as she had done on any occasions. But at this one she felt she couldn’t move to serve the meal and so friends gathered to help her. In the dream, she looked around to see who was there. It was all her old friends from long ago who had already passed on. When she turned her head to say, ‘Hello,’ they would smile and ask her the same question each in turn.
“How was your life?”
“I had a good life,” she would answer.
“How was your life,” asked a childhood friend who had passed away a few years earlier, also from cancer.
“I have been very lucky,” she answered again.
She knew she didn’t have much time left and felt at peace but added, “I am a little scared, will you be there with me?” she asked.
“Yes they cried that’s why we are here – you will never be alone and they will never be alone”
The morning came with tiny plastic cups of vile tasting fluids and drip changes. They were supposedly to ease pain and help nutrients feed into her blood stream. She thought how absurd it was. She was dieing. She knew that. Why postpone the inevitable and waste medicine that should go to someone else who needs it. All she wanted was for it to be over. Inside the prison of her own drugged body, she seethed with impatience. How much longer was it going to go on? She was now at the stage where she could no longer hold food down. The growth was pressing into her stomach and blocking anything going down. Her mind was going and she just wanted to let go.
One time when no-one was looking, she tried to pull out one of the catheters feeding into her arm. She didn’t know what it was there for and thought if she pulled it out death would come quicker. But just as she struggled with it, her son rushed up to check on her. He was shocked and tried to stop her;
“No Mum,” he implored tearfully, “you mustn’t do that.”
But in trying to stop her from ripping the tube out he was more afraid of hurting her. He had no choice but to watch her do it. When she did she declared – “There! Now I can die.” She could see the fear and pain on his face through her clouded vision but it was time – she knew people were waiting for her and she was scared that they might leave
Panicking he ran down the stairs to fetch someone or call for help. She didn’t know which. Soon a woman appeared at her bedside she vaguely recognized. It was her son’s girlfriend. She was kind and had been a nurse. She gently explained to her she had only pulled out the morphine feed. She would call the Doctor to replace it and held her hand until she arrived.
She searched the room for her son, calling out to him.
“I am here Mum.” He said.
“Where is your father?” she asked.
“He has gone to the Chemist to get your drugs, Mum.” Then she remembered. He had told her, but she had, in the heat of the moment forgotten.
“I am sorry I frightened you, son,” she said.
The drama over, she resigned to rest until the end came. When it did finally come, it was surprisingly gentle. Her body began to shake, but not from any pain. Her mind felt dislocated, but not from any delusions or altered state. Her husband holding her right hand and her son holding her left – the two men in her life, strong to the bitter end, she felt it was now time to go.
Those voices she heard days before calling to her to join them became louder and clearer. The reality of her living days became less real as she passed to a higher plain. The new existence, like the tuning in of a T.V. channel became more real. There in the room the impossible came to life. Her mother, short roly-poly red haired, just as she remembered her, held out her hand saying, “Look who is here,” Then she saw her brother. He too greeted her, “Hello my dear.”
The pain of her cancer no-longer compromising her sanity, she looked down to see her men; her brave and steadfast husband and her smart and passionate son holding each other, trembling in each others arms, sobbing openly. Some how she felt she could reach out to her son. He always believed in spiritual things and so she took full advantage of the opportunity his faith provided.
“I am fine now,” she said. He, in just that precious of moments, looked up as if he heard her. She tried another little message, “You will be okay now too.”
Life is too short. Even though it comes with thorns, it is the flower we should focus on. She had lived a full life and was ready to move on. One day after much grieving, those she had left behind would move on with their lives too. Building new relationships, living every moment like it’s their last and enjoying every second of it are what life is about.
And so she had said a few days before – “Show me the roses.” When her spirit lingered over them for a little while before she passed on she saw they were growing like never before. She hoped that her little family would remember that roses’ sweet scent, like a happy memory could never die so long as you tend to them. Cherish them and help them to grow.
This piece is based on a true story. It is about my dear Mother who passed away on the sixth day of April 2005. Now, every time I see roses I remember her.
This was the last thing I ever heard her say was, “Show me the Roses.”