My father-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, a few weeks before the first tulips popped their glossy mouths open, toward the spring sky.
Our daughters were six and three at the time, and they immediately asked us if “Bop”—as they called him—was going to die. The prognosis wasn’t good, but there were treatments to take, prayers to pray, moments to be brave, days to be lived—one precious hour at a time.
We told the girls how dying isn’t a dead end, but a doorway. And until we got to the doorway, we had a lot of living to do in the hallway. I still remember all the tea parties that Bop hosted on the back deck of their farmhouse that year. The cups were so dainty in his big farmer hands.
Spring bloomed. And many weeks after the leukemia diagnosis, the girls and I were walking through a park, where gardeners had painstakingly tended to row upon row of tulips for an annual tulip festival. We didn’t get to the park during the tulips’ prime blooming days. By the time we showed up there, the tulips’ heads had begun to nod, draining out their color.
We knelt down by the dying flowers, and the girls cupped soft petals in their small hands.
I told the girls how the tulips were “perennials.” They bloom profusely, for a time, then slowly fade into a sort of death. But next spring, those same tulips would bloom again.
The younger daughter asked me, “Why are you crying, Mommy? Are you crying because we got here too late?” And I just hugged them and told them how beautiful the flowers were, even when they were dying.
Summer came. Bop grew weaker, and we all felt this shift in our prayers, toward accepting things we couldn’t change.
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Photo by jcoterhals on Flickr. Sourced via Creative Commons.
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