If I could give everyone I loved, everyone whose lives I’ve touched, the opportunity to stop, be still, close their eyes, and breathe deeply the fragrance of this most elegant blossom, I would.
The gardenia was my grandmother Gloria’s favorite flower, held in her hand as a young World World II bride, eyes lowered, in this sweet and bashful way. It also adorned Billie Holiday’s hair, pulled up as she sang of love and loss, at a thick silvery microphone, in smoky rooms where people listened and applauded to a young black woman’s song.
A crescent of these blossoms, centered and grounded, the profusion of pink and white Ana roses with English ivy cascading down, in my own bouquet, as a 25-year old bride on a bright May day, in a Lutheran church, in Downers Grove. And just this morning, there was a full-open blossom and another on the brink, on the plant given to me 2 years ago by Ana, my mother-in-law, who really isn’t related, but is, in the deep ways that matter most and connect us. Sometimes, I wonder will my daughter Katie tuck one of these blossoms in her bouquet a million moons from now, when she steps forward, in hope, towards love? I pray she will, because it is a thread that connects us.
Many summer ago, my grandmother Gloria died in the same Naperville hospital where I gave birth to both my children. I remember I was the only family member here when she first was admitted. I remember being with her and how afraid she was. I remember how a faceless doctor pulled me aside, in this cold tiled hallway, and said I absolutely needed to get my mom and uncles here, now. That her prognosis wasn’t good.
I remember, in her last days with us in the hospital, when she was no longer conscious, how her room was filled with our Irish family’s raucous laughter, Styrofoam coffee cups with lipstick stains, and boxes of doughnuts. There was Tom Jones music playing and also songs from the 1940’s, especially “I’ll Be Seeing You” which was my grandparents’ song.
I remember leaving the hospital on an errand that, to me, felt absolutely mission-critical.
I remember driving from florist to florist, like a woman possessed, searching for a gardenia for my grandmother. Finally I found one, this yellowed, imperfect one. The shopkeeper gave it to me, for no money. I remember racing back to the hospital, hoping it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t. I held the blossom to my grandmother’s face, and whether she smiled, I cannot remember. But it was this precious thing that connected us. It still does.
So, today, I share the story of this blossom so it connects us, too. And while you cannot inhale its deeply sweet and lovely fragrance, I pray you feel touched by it, this gift of beauty threading us together today.
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“I’ll Be Seeing You”
with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Irving Kahal.
(sung by Billie Holiday)
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well
i’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you