The First Rose of Summer

The aroma of a life that touches another’s life garden

can be the catalyst that stimulates their vibrancy of existence.

Every spring I await the arrival of my peonies to briefly announce the glory of spring, and the coming celebration of summer. Their beauty is extraordinary and worth waiting for, like some lives that cross my paths, — short lived but intense. They leave me wishing I could capture their beauty forever. The moment they’re gone, I begin to look forward to next year’s bouquet.

My flowers grow much like people, interpreting God’s sunlight into the handiwork of a multitude of colors. But in my entire garden there is nothing like the first rose of summer. My roses return every year to decorate the garden with their timeless classic fashion review and to leave their fragrance on the hand that is lucky enough to witness their revelry.

It is in the garden of my life that I met my flesh and blood rose of summer; and the fragrance of this grand lady has not only enriched my life but has lingered on with me.

“Rosie”, was her name, called that by her dad.  Born in March, he explained to her she was his precious “first rose of summer.” I met Rosie after her stroke in 1979, when she was not expected to live much more than six months, requiring constant care. I was told she had been an active, vibrant gardener and chef in her past, but the day’s tasks at hand now included the difficult jobs of dressing and walking.

At 62, the stroke left her weak on one side and memory challenged.  Days would go by that she could not remember what she ate or the days of the week, but could tell me childhood memories in such explicit detail that I was left dreaming of an era gone by. She often would forget my name, but never failed to identify every flower in my garden.  Sitting for hours she would watch and correct my planting techniques.

Her favorite color was blue. When we shopped for new dresses the style didn’t matter as long as they were blue. Her new house was blue, her hat was blue, and the new coat we bought her for Christmas had to be blue

As a new mom, Rosie had a way of stating simple obvious facts.  When I was mature enough to not be irritated at her advice; I found great wisdom and comfort in them.  I would fight a battle of endless unwanted blackberry vines, only to hear her tell me; “Just keep pulling the annoying things out, they’ll give up after a while.” I smiled, wondering if she meant my own bad habits, grooming my new babies, or tending my young flower garden.

As my children grew, and my garden began to mature, Rosie encouraged me to plant flowers that would return every year, annually reducing my labors. This was my introduction to perennials, and lasting character traits for my children. “Invest in them today, and reap the benefits tomorrow,” I could hear her say with a wink.

Rosie’s favorite activity was to walk the property twice a day with either her little dog or my huge bear sized black lab. It was then that she met her toughest challenges, her battle with the dandelions! Most days she won the skirmishes by plucking the culprits from their soldier stances in the yard, other days bending over caused her to fall, where she would lie unable to get up until one of us found her lying in the grass along the trail.  Each time we would frantically search for her, only to be cheerfully greeted with, “I knew you would come for me.” She was never bitter about the wait, she was content to look around or take a nap.

Once when dusk had fallen and I could not find her in the dark, I called the paramedics. After they formed a search party, knowing the route she usually took through the woods to the creek, we fanned out. Before long the spotlight fell upon her lying on her side just off the path. As I prayed, “Dear Lord, let her be alive”, she called my name and said, “I knew you would find me and come pick me up!” Her trust in me grew a lump in my throat that brought tears to my eyes. Just as I was chastising myself for not paying closer attention to the time when she left, she surprised us all by trying to get me a date with several good looking firemen and paramedics! Thinking she was delusional, they looked at me with concerned filled voices asking, “Is she ok?” I laughed through my embarrassment and shook my head, “Yes, she’s fine, this is her idea of being funny!”

As my garden plot and children grew, Rosie made suggestions for plants that brought great beauty and color to their established friends. She cautioned me not to over-plant, to learn to see what it would look like in a few years and to be patient. Over planting, over committing the space God has given me to grow and bloom in has always been a struggle for me. Remembering her advice, I try to be patient waiting for God’s work to be accomplished in his time frame, not mine.

She had the uncanny ability to compliment me on my parenting and remind me that she loved me, just at the moments I needed it most. As the demands of motherhood and life in general pressed in upon me, I found solace in my garden with Rosie. Life seemed to slow to a more manageable pace there and I could make a corner of my world more beautiful, with dirt under my nails, walking away with a sense of accomplishment.

We planted pink Martha Washington’s, and roses to offset the blue flowers that lined the front flowerbed. As summer manifest itself in full color, I worked hard to keep the weeds and dandelions plucked so that Rosie wouldn’t attempt to pick them and tumble over.

Early one summer, she developed a lump on her throat that began to grow. The diagnosis was terminal cancer allowing her only six weeks to live. She never understood the diagnosis, and we all lived with the knowledge this rare, one of a kind beauty was going to tend eternal gardens with angels very soon. As her weakening body kept her from her daily walks, she was able only to make it to my garden. I was careful to take time to stop my busy life and discover the wealth of her memories, recording every word in my heart; her favorite song, (In the Garden), her favorite dress, and foods. I felt like I was cramming for a final exam, and had to retain the answers for my sake and her memory.

She felt strongly that when she died, she was to be cremated; her husband was not to spend money fussing over her. “If anyone wants to send flowers, they should do it while I am alive, not after,” she was often quoted as saying. As the closing of summer approached, so did her life. I remember her last day was a clear, crisp, fall day. Knowing something was wrong, as she struggled to breathe she wanted her husband and I near.  When she labored to speak and I ask her what she wanted, she simply said, “Talk.” I questioned her, “you? Me?” and she pointed to me. I have always been one that can keep up a steady flow of chatter, but somehow idle words seemed so undignified for this rose that lay withering.

I sang her favorite songs and quoted Bible verses she knew. Knowing her love for the outdoors, I began to talk about the colors of the fall leaves, the sound of them crunching under my feet, the feel of the sun on my face and the crisp, cool air on my arms. She smiled a weak smile, watching me as I continued describing the smell of autumn leaves that the neighbors were burning. I brought in my lab, and he very gently stuck his head between her hospice bed bars to nudge her hand. Smiling she fought for every breath, as she struggled to speak. I smoothed her hair from her brow encouraging her to rest instead.  She drifted off to sleep.

A few hours later, her husband summoned me back to their house, she was asking for me. My black lab, her walking partner and my constant companion, followed me to her porch with a worried look on his face while holding a leaf in his mouth like a gift. I hesitated as I began to climb the two small steps to the door of her house. I prayed God would give me the strength to finish the gift of our now eighteen-year old friendship. I yearned to be as strong as she had been in fighting her cancer. I wanted to see her all the way to the end of her earthly garden path, but lacked the courage and fortitude to allow this blossom to fade from my life.

On reluctant, shaky legs, I entered the front door and proceeded to her bedside.  Recognizing my voice, she smiled in her weakened state, making it clear her husband and I were welcomed visitors as she prepared to embark on a journey we could not follow her on. It soon became apparent the breaths we were watching were her last.

Struggling as we said our good-byes, assuring her we were fine, we gave her permission to go on without us. She took one last breath.

Before today, I remembered fearing death, but while holding her in my arms, looking into her face, I watched her cross over from life to a peaceful world beyond. Her departure to heaven was quiet and dignified. I grieved for myself at the loss of this rich, fragrant blossom and the aroma she left in the garden of my heart.

Two years have passed since that fall, and every spring brings a strong reminder that soon the roses will be in bloom. This year we are ready to finish the memorial garden that Rosie will grace with her ashes. She will finally rest as a perennial in the garden forever.

Somehow it seems an unworthy ending for a “Rose” that bloomed so prolifically, and yet it will be comforting for me as I spend hours maturing along side her garden, attempting to imitate the First Rose of Summer.

*This story can be found in Seeds of Wisdom for Parents