Thursday, February 23, 2006

There is Good Found in Everything…

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY. A perfect number of clouds lined the sky, making us aware of just how blue that abyss can be. It was the middle of May and the weather was just starting to warm up. As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers, everything was in full bloom. My father had the yard in fine shape. The grass was cropped short in a diagonal pattern, each pass barely overlapping the one before. The concrete patio was lined with flower boxes full of tulips in bloom. The side of the house was covered with rose bushes, open to the spring sunshine, red in all their glory. The sloping hill at the back of the house was terraced at regular intervals with railroad ties, and dotted with pink and white dogwood trees, their blooms, the state flower of North Carolina. Two bird feeders hung on the back porch and hummingbirds of various colors flew down and hovered, their long beaks reaching in and drinking the sugar water. No leaves remained on the ground from the season of death, when all had fallen from the southern oaks. My father had raked away all the remains of that season and prepared the yard for the next, the season when all would be in full bloom of life again.

A squirrel darted across the yard, scampered up a large oak tree, made his way across a branch and dove from its tip. Suspended in midair, partial wings outstretched, he sailed to another limb and crossed the yard from treetop to treetop in an instant. In the center of the yard, near my mother’s chair, was a flower bed of all different types and colors of flowers. They had just started to bloom. Purple, red, and orange buds were intertwined in a floral arrangement encircled by a rock wall. It was a creation of hers and I saw her looking at it with keen interest, remembering a day when she had been healthy enough to work in the yard; strong enough to carry the rocks down from the hill and arrange them neatly in the circle that guarded her flowers. She was studying them, remembering each of their names, the kind of soil they liked, and the season they flowered. Many different kinds of flowers lie in the bed, but only certain ones bloomed in the spring, when sunlight is ample but not overbearing, when temperatures are brisk but not freezing. It seems there is a time and a place for everything to bloom, and a condition to be met for each.

“It’s such a nice day, Corey,” my mother said, looking around at the yard.

The bath and the fresh air had given her so much more strength than she had in the confines of her room. She seemed almost healthy again. She had the burgundy, velveteen wrap on her head. Her cheeks and eye sockets had regained much of their color. She was holding her head up straight, and her legs were stretched out on the lawn chair. She was almost healthy. I brought her a glass of water, and sat down next to her.

“Has your father been working in the yard?” she inquired. “It looks really nice.”

“Yes Ma’am. He usually does an hour or two of something every day when he gets home.”

“Well, you certainly can tell,” she said, and took in as big a view as she could.

“Mom, I’ll be right back. I want to get you something.” I had just remembered the pictures in the hallway.

I returned with the picture collages from the hallway, and placed one in her lap. It was one of her family. She rested it in her lap and looked at it for a long time. Her eyes were shining with a sheen of water covering them. A smile crept across her face and the memories flooded in.

“It seems all I can do is remember,” she said, and feigned a smile and a laugh. “I remember every last detail.”

She swallowed the emotions that would bring tears, replaced it with gratitude for being able to remember, and began to tell me her story.

There were times when I thought my mother’s plight with cancer seemed inhumane. But there were other times, like this day, when some value had been added to her life and to mine; something that made life seem worth living. She reached a point, as we all must, where something larger than life itself crept inside her and whispered, “It will be okay, Linda, this is the natural way of things.” Sitting together talking, laughing, and remembering, seemed to make her painful journey one worth embracing.

Having told her story, and her strength dwindling, she asked to go back to her room. I carried her there, set her down easily, and tucked her into bed. I gave her a glass of water and a handful of pills. As I turned to leave, she grabbed my hand and said my name in such a way as to warrant my full and undivided attention.

“Yes Ma’am?”

“I love you son,” she said softly, and put her head down on the pillow. I leaned down and kissed her forehead.

“I love you too, Mom,” I said, and meant it with more heart than I ever knew I had.

That was an excerpt from my novel, “The Time Keeper”. It is based on my own personal experience when my mother was faced with terminal cancer. When experiencing the loss of a loved one to cancer, you can’t help but ask what do I do now? What do I say when no words can be spoken? For some people the answer is crippling, the notion of moving on with your life is insurmountable, beyond attempt, and utterly shattering. Of course, to be human is to experience these feelings, but they should not alter our life forever.
For a brief time I thought the tragic event would rule the day, and leave me to struggle through the rest of my life. But with some good guidance, some real searching on my own, I turned the course to my favor, mostly due to my mother’s strong encouragement during her last days.
My mother once said to me, “There’s good to be found in everything, you just have to know how to look at it.” She said those words the day we were sitting in the yard looking at pictures, and talking and laughing. She made a believer out of me, because when I think about all the terrible things that went along with her illness, my mind always comes back to that beautiful day when life seemed worth living.
I often hear people say, “I wish I could just speak to them one more time,” in reference to someone who has passed away. And I think to myself that they can, and that we all can speak through our accomplishments, however grand or small they may be—the import is that they can put a smile on the face of someone looking down on us and watching over us from above, knowing that were they alive they would be proud of the loved one they left behind. In short, there are two paths we can walk after someone’s death: one that leaves us bereaved forever, and one that gives us strength to make the most of the days we are granted, realizing that ultimately those days will be seen as a gift.

Kevin Cropp is the author of “The Time Keeper”, a novel about a mother and son coping with cancer and their troubled relationship. You can find out more about the author and this book at www.copperpresspublishers.com.