I went to my Dad’s house this weekend.
“The tulips look good.”
We kept saying that to each other over and over. Sitting in his conservatory, we were looking out at the bursts of yellow and red dotting his yard. They didn’t just look good, they looked like happiness.
Three years ago we were a mess. My Dad had broken his nose in February when he leaned down to pet a dog outside a pet shop. The dog jumped and my Dad ended belly down on the sidewalk. Blood spewing from his face. This happened just a week after my brother had a stent placed in one of his arteries leading from his heart. He nearly suffered a heart attack but avoided it all by getting to the hospital in time. Still, it was a shock as he showed no symptoms up until that morning. That was just two days after my final breast surgery. It was my third operation in 6 months but this one was cosmetic and so not as worrisome for my family. I was lying in bed recovering when my sister Lisa came in and said, “You’re off the front page again. Rob is in the hospital with heart problems.”
I remember looking up in shock. “What?”
Lisa didn’t have all of the details. My brother and father are not as prone to dial the female side of the family in emergencies. If they were in the wild kingdom, the possum would best represent them. My father fell fast asleep for all of our births as his nerves couldn’t handle the pressure. My mother would have called us with minute by minute details of my brother’s emergency. She was dead 4 months and the phone lines were silent. Her absence left each of us like unmoored boats in rough waters.
My sister Colleen was called on her cell phone. She was driving from Connecticut to the city to help care for me. Her eye started twitching uncontrollably as she sped down I95 in the darkness. Later she confessed, she had her first hot flash amidst all that twitching. We were not only still grieving but our dynamic as a family had shifted and we weren’t functioning. We have always been a close family. It turns out my mother was the communication center and without her we had system wide failures from making emergency decisions to just plain communication. To add to our confusion, we realized she was editing my father for our entire lives. In hindsight, she was probably editing us to him. It was as though we had to reintroduce ourselves to each other in the midst of crisis. None of us were prepared for the unedited versions.
Lisa’s pun about my not being on the front page referred to my mother’s illness that shadowed my own diagnosis of cancer 7 months prior. The year 2010 was awful and the winter of 2011 continued with dramas we never dreamed possible.
Spring that year was as dismal as our mood. The yard had a few sad tulip blooms from bulbs culled from past Easters. When the bulbs are a lesser quality they bloom white even if the original color was a vibrant yellow or red. My father’s garden was dotted with the occasional sad white tulip. That’s when I stopped buying tulips at the Farmer’s Market. I wanted quality bulbs that would reproduce bright renditions every year.
“We need to plant some flowers Dad. How about Irises?”
We were sitting in his conservatory missing my mother’s presence. She had the conservatory built as she slowly declined in health. Her last great act of defiance against sickness. He had a catalog of bulb flowers and we started going through them.
“I don’t like Irises.”
He dashed my hope of growing a bed of my favorite flower.
“How about tulips?’
“Oh, I like tulips. It’s a shame your mother doesn’t.”
My mother had been dead 8 months. “I don’t think they will bother her now.”
My father looked at me blankly.
We purchased 28 bulbs. In the spring of 2012 the yard burst with vibrant colors.
We then purchased another 48 bulbs. This past May my father exclaimed during every phone call, ” The yard is beautiful. You should see the tulips.”
This past weekend he was the one who said, “We should add a few more.”
Yesterday, we purchased an additional 100 bulbs.
We have adjusted to the loss of my mother. She is missed but as a family we have found one another again and a new rhythm. Yes, she would probably hate many of the changes that have occurred including a yard full of tulips. Still, change happens and she would be pleased to see how close we have all remained and how we take care of our father. That was one of her greatest concerns in the end and the reason I think her death was so difficult. She felt like she was betraying him by dying and therefore hung on for as long as she could. That’s all a memory now and part of a history that can’t be rewritten but is often revisited.
The burst of color in the yard is a symbol of change. For now, we are all healthy and in that there is happiness.