The year LW was going through cancer the first time, my family planted a gardenia bush outside my front door for me for mother's day. It wasn't much of a bush, pretty small, but though it was too new to bloom, it sent out roots and grew strong.
The year after, LW was also strong, and we were out of CancerLand. The gardenia really was a bush now, and covered with blooms. LW and I would go to the YMCA every day. Most days, I would pick one of the almost-spent blooms and put it in my car, where I could enjoy the fragrance.
Last spring, the gardenia bloomed more profusely. The morning that I took LW to the hospital, to see if the "spots" on her CT were cancer, I picked a blossom. During the long drive to the medical center, I enjoyed its smell, occasionally picking it up off the dashboard so that I could breathe it in more deeply. As I parked the car, I left it on the dashboard. I knew that it would be several days before I was in the vehicle again. When I see you again, you will be wilted, I mentally told it. And I will know something. I will know if my normal life can continue, or if ...
By the time I got in the car to drive home again, laden with pain, information sheets, and appointments with specialists, the gardenia blossom had dried into a crackly, shrunken knob. Getting out of the car at home, I crumbled it into the grass, before turning to take LW -- gently, very gently! -- out of her car seat.
Through the summer, I picked the gardenia blossoms, putting them on the dashboard as we drove back and forth to radiation, to chemo, to the hospital.
Tonight, I left my house to go to a covenant group meeting at my church. Surprise! The first gardenia of the season, open and fragrant. I plucked it and tucked it next to my readings, candle, matches.
At the church, I lay it next to the chalice as I lit the flame and did the reading. One of the group members picked it up and inhaled deeply, smiling with pleasure. Throughout the meeting, we enjoyed its heady perfume. Our topic was Hope ... when it's hard to find, where do you look? More than once, we referenced the gardenia, our emblem that life goes on.
Throughout it all, gym or hospital, happiness or despair, the gardenia kept blooming. Today, I am full of joy and excitement about our upcoming trip. But there is also enough room inside for a not small bit of fear, at the scans upcoming in May.
And the gardenia continues to bloom.
After our meeting, after our closing words were said, our chalice extinguished, I picked up the gardenia. There is a homeless man, Alex, who sleeps in the vestibule of our church. We keep a blanket folded there for him.
I left the gardenia on top.