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.
Grandma has moved from bulb to blossom. I love that, Hannah. The bulb whispers its secret to you too…”yes, it’s true…the Beloved Source of all Life courses through us …all life… always”. Love you…sorry for your loss of Grandma’s presence as you knew it. You may just come to know her better now…we’ll see.
Thanks, Nancy & Doug. I feel I’ve come to know my mom’s mom better since she passed away; I think the same will be true for my dad’s mom.
Thanks Hannah. A beautiful story, and some extra January light for my day.