The paperwhites are in full bloom the morning I learn that Grandma has died. Before I turn on my phone and see the message, I happen to write in my journal about a conversation we had last month. She said to keep the bulbs after they bloom and use them again next year. Grandma has been giving me paperwhite bulbs for years; she’s never told me they could be reused. I wonder if it’s true.
The amaryllis will bloom soon. I trim back my parsley and repot my chives. I’m chopping fresh herbs for roasted sweet potatoes when I turn on the phone.
Dad told me two days ago that Grandma seemed to be drawing close to the end. Last week when I called her, she mumbled only the briefest greetings. The news is inevitable and welcome, isn’t it? Her suffering is over. Each Christmas I love the sight of those brown bulbs because I know the transformation they’ll undergo. While I cannot feign certainty about what lies beyond death, I trust that Grandma has moved from bulb to blossom.
Still I weep over my work. I’ve begun the day doing things Grandma loved: writing, tending plants, preparing food. Later I’ll swim laps at the pool, just like she did for decades. So much of Jean Craig Mell lives within me, but I feel like I hardly knew her.
Over these past weeks, Grandma spoke again and again about getting out of bed and sitting at her computer. She has a church newsletter to complete. We tried to tell her not to worry about it. We wanted her to know that every life leaves work undone, but I don’t know if anyone said it that way. She kept pretending this stay in bed was a short-term problem, and mostly we played along.
Grandma grasped after work from her deathbed, and I am hardly any different. I want to know I’m useful. I want others to know it, too.
I go online and learn that after paperwhites blossom, you can plant them in dirt and fertilize them. When spring comes, transfer them to a garden, and in two or three years they’ll flower again. I don’t have a garden, but I can borrow a friend’s. Grandma may never have said goodbye, but she wanted me to keep the bulbs this year.
I gaze at the blossoms aglow in morning light. Their beauty was enclosed in the dirty bulbs all along; they needed only water and the mercy of January sunshine. If Grandma were here, perhaps we’d talk about how easy it is for paperwhites. I draw closer and breathe in the fragrance. Maybe it’s meant to be easy enough for us, too.