God gives us memories so that we might have roses in December.
~ James Barrie ~
After Charlie died, my dear friend from college, Laura sent me a book that helped her through the loss of her first son in 1999. Laura’s story is a beautiful one that include love, loss, survival, perseverance and selflessness. But it’s not my story to tell.
The book she sent was Roses in December by Marilyn Willett Heavilin.
I wasn’t too sure about the book when I first started reading it. Marilyn, the author, had lost three sons. Her first son died at 7 weeks old. Her second son died two years later from pneumonia and left his twin to survive him.
At 17 years old, the surviving twin died tragically by a drunk driver.
How much could one woman take? I thought for sure this book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t identify with THAT MUCH loss. But I found myself sucked in. I couldn’t stop reading. I read this book four times.
FOUR TIMES. It touched me that much.
She shares in the book the many ways that even in the winters of our lives, our darkest moments, God gives us signs or Roses, to remind us of our loved ones. These Roses give us comfort, strength, even joy when we allow ourselves to see them.
Charlie died in June of 2003. It was a long summer and fall. And then it was winter. It got dark early. People continued to go on with their lives, decorate for Christmas, go see Santa, deck the halls and experience joy. We did not. That year we decided not to get a tree. But the closer it got, the more we realized we needed to try to force ourselves.
We bought a tree. We put it in a stand in the corner of our house and left it. For four weeks it didn’t get lights, ornaments or even water. What was the point?
Our tree got crispy. Even though it was technically already dead when we bought it because it had been stripped of its life support that we call roots, we let it die even more.
It just stood there. Mocking us.
Laughing at us that we didn’t have our son to put under the tree for a picture. Giggling that we wouldn’t get to be Santa for our baby who would have no idea what was going on.
Christmas was going to come whether we wanted to stop it or not.
Christmas Eve we left home to go to my Grannie’s house. We didn’t want to go. It would have been much more preferable to stay in bed or in front of the TV with the dead tree mocking us. It was going to be painful. I actually saw a picture from that night recently and hardly recognized myself. I was so sad. And broken.
But as we left our house that day, I was greeted on the porch by a rose.
For most people, their rose would be a smell, a sight, a place… but no. Mine was a real rose. On a rosebush in a container that my former teacher gave me after Charlie died. It had turned brown from lack of care, because I didn’t care, and was surely near death.
But this is the sight I saw when I walked out onto my porch on the way to what was supposed to be a happy event:
I wish I were kidding but I’m not. Overnight, in 40 degree weather, my rosebush perked up and BLOOMED.
I’d say it was a miracle, and it possibly was. But I KNOW it was my Charlie… telling me that he was okay and that it was his wish that I pick myself up and leave the last six months behind and start moving forward.
I continue to have roses. Nine years later, they still show up every now and then and I recognize them for what they are. They’re my reminders of a life that was short but beautiful.