Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Half a Dozen Roses

When I was growing up, I wasn't one of those little girls who longed for Prince Charming to come my way and sweep me off of my feet.  I didn't need him.  I had my Daddy, and I had my Grampa.  The loved me and cherished me and were the men who taught me what a man is supposed to be.

I was less than six months old on my first Valentine's day.  My Daddy didn't do anything for me - I was a baby, after all.  But my Grampa gave me a fancy card and bought me a single red rose.  He was my very first Valentine... and that is something that nobody else will ever be.  After my dad regained custody of me, when I was about six and a half, he started a tradition of buying me flowers - lots of them - and chocolate and a fancy card.  He did such a beautiful job of showing me I mattered and was loved and that he thought the world of me.  So did my Grampa.  Others did, too, but there is something special about being a little girl and being treated that way.  Something sweet that lasts.

But even though my Grampa was my first Valentine... I was not his.  My Gramma was his Valentine.  Their love is so beautiful, that it makes me cry.  And I don't cry.

On January 31st, 2007, my Gramma was killed in a car crash.  It has been six Valentine's days since then.  Six days that celebrate love.  Six days that my beloved Grampa has had to watch the world celebrate while his heart breaks. 

This morning, I stopped and bought Grampa a dozen pastel roses.  They are his favorite.  Red ones and white ones make him cry - red because that's what Gramma always got him, and white because that is what we adorned Gramma's casket with when we lowered her into the ground. 

I also bought a dozen red roses.  Red for love... that special love that long-lasting couples share.  That love that I saw between him and Gramma after 49 years of marriage.  Six, I gave to him.  One for each Valentine's day since she went to heaven.  He got a little teary when I explained their presence and why there were six red ones.  I didn't tell him about the other six.  I was already having a hard time holding my composure.  I forgot to remove the price tag from the cellophane wrapper.  I don't know if you know this, but at least around here, roses aren't cheap.  Especially not in the morning on Valentine's day.  And especially if you want them to be exquisite.  When he saw the price sticker, he blurted.  I blurt too.  I think I learned it from him.  He was amazed that I would spend "that much money just to say I love you to an old man."  Of course I would.  Of course

I left, and before I even put my car in gear, tears were starting to slide down my cheeks.  Hot, salty tears in the cold winter air.

I went home and did the things necessary to prepare for teaching martial arts, and then I took the remaining roses - six perfect red roses - and drove to the cemetery.

I sat in the snow by her headstone, staring at the words inscribed across the top.  "And Jesus said to them, ye must be born again."  I cried.  I said some things that I pray she got to hear... even though I'm not sure exactly what people in heaven do and do not have access to.  Then I took the first rose from the cellophane.  I broke the stem, because her absence has broken so many hearts.  I laid it on the black marble base, and thought about that first Valentine's day without her.  The rawness and shock hadn't faded at all yet that first year.  I took the second rose, broke the stem, and laid it next to the first.  I remembered how that second year, Derek and I had clung desperately to each other and were living in constant fear that something would happen and we would have to know the pain Grampa was feeling.  The third rose, the third stem, for the third year.  That year, Derek and I celebrated.  We celebrated our love.  The fourth rose didn't want to break - the stem bent back and forth several times before it cracked.  A thorn pricked the skin on my thumb, and I bled one bright red drop.  That fourth year, I was starting down the road I am still on.  The road of admitting how broken and how hurt I truly was; not just about Gramma, but about so much.  The fifth rose broke easily.  The fifth year.  The fifth year slipped past; nothing happened on Valentine's day.  I forgot to call my Grampa, and forgot to call my dad.  I didn't even think to say anything to my husband.  It was like that rose stem - stiff and insignificant.

The last rose... the sixth one... made me cry the most.  I cried because this year, I have watched so many who professed profound and everlasting love hurt one another.  I cried because if Derek and I have the sort of love my grandparents had... if we are that way 43 years from now... I cannot even fathom being given such a gift.  I cried because my Grampa is hurting and missing her and loving her.  I cried because I feel like she is the best parts of me.  And those best parts are not gone, but they are hurting.  The best parts are damaged and incomplete.  I cried because I've been trying since the day she died to figure out how to live in a world where she isn't... and I still don't know.  I cried because I actually thought to myself "Gramma will understand how I'm feeling.  I'll just call her..."

Six red roses.  Red roses on black marble, surrounded by white snow.  Broken stems for broken hearts.

And above it all... those words.  "Ye must be born again."

I cried because none of this pain is permanent.  I cried because I am redeemed, and so was she... and so anyone can be, if they will accept it.

Tonight, I have that heavy, tired, blurry-eyed feeling that one gets when one cries too much.  Every once in a while, I pick up my camera and look at the pictures I took.  I may share some day... but for tonight, they are mine.  The moments were mine, the tears were mine, and the comfort God whispered to my heart is mine.

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