The Lilac Bush
Sometimes when I look at an ordinary object, I am flooded with thoughts and memories of its unseen, yet palpable significance. Take for example this lilac bush.
This is not just a lilac bush. I gave this bush to my mother and her husband when they married in 1999. This is more than a wedding present, more than a lilac bush.
You see, my mother and I both became widows in 1994 when I was 26, and my mother was 52. My fiance was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer just three months into our engagement. Our engagement was a bittersweet combination of visits to photographers and caterers that I had dreamed about since I was a little girl, to visits for nauseating chemotherapy and painful bone marrow extraction. While I was supposed to be the excited bride-to-be, I was instead a terrified young woman, taking care of the strong man I loved, who could no longer take care of himself on his worst days.
I remember one visit to the oncologist in particular. My fiance and I were planning our honeymoon. The only solid detail that we were quite sure of was that we wanted to travel the Pacific Coast Highway. So I sent away for various brochures to help us plan our trip. I anticipated that we would have some time to kill in the oncologist’s waiting room, so I brought the brochures with us to discuss as we waited. When we were called in to his office, the doctor was curious about the brochures. I will never forget the look of sadness in his eyes when I informed him that the brochures were related to our honeymoon. He knew that it would take a miracle for my fiance to live to see the Pacific Coast Highway.
My fiance fought the bravest, most valiant fight that he could, but he succumbed to his awful illness just seven months after diagnosis. If anyone could beat cancer, it was him. But God had other plans for this great man.
Those who knew him joked that he had “nine lives”. Before I met him, he had already survived being struck by lightning as well as a car accident that left him in a coma for three weeks. It seemed so unfair and surreal that life would give him this third and final blow in his twenties.
During his illness and after his death, both of my parents were my rock, my pillars of STRENTH. They took care of me and him, slept by his bedside at the hospital, and were strong for me when I know they must have felt quite emotionally and physically weak. They were present when he took his last breath, and they were there to hold me up when my legs could no longer support my anguish and grief.
My parents loved him and took care of him like their own son. I know their hearts ached on so many levels – that Scott had to suffer, to see me in so much emotional pain, and the pain of their own profound loss of their future son-in-law. I was always close with my parents, and that time of grieving brought me closer to them than ever before. Unfortunately, tragically, and simply unbelievably, my father died unexpectedly six weeks later from a sudden heart attack. I’m convinced that he died from a broken heart.
The beauty in my father’s death, and it really is beauty, is that he died exactly the way he wanted to die. After my fiance died, my father and I did much talking about death in my house, to help us process our profound loss. One Sunday, while sitting with me in my bedroom and hugging me in my grief, my father said very calmly, “You know, if I have it my way, I’m going to die on a chairlift. That is where I feel closest to God, breathing in the cool mountain air.” Six weeks later, my father escaped to the mountains for an early season Vermont ski trip to in November as he always did, but this time was with intense purpose – to help heal his emotional wounds.
My father died suddenly from a heart attack while on a chairlift. That very chairlift he glorified just a few weeks earlier. I was informed by ski patrol that he had been seen skiing, and I was comforted to know that at the very least, he got in some good runs. Although the people at Okemo did not know my father, he had an unforgettable way of skiing. He skied with outstretched arms, turning slowly and gracefully, while listening to his tunes. His skiing exuded happiness, and he was recognized that fateful morning by his happy-skiing.
The kind ski patrollers drove my father’s Bronco from Vermont to New Jersey. I am certain that this is a ski patrol responsibility that they did not sign up for, and one they will never forget.
My mother and I then found ourselves both widows in 1994. Although she and I had much in common, we now had something in common that we never dreamed of, never wanted to share. I didn’t want it for either one of us! However, we made the most of our mother-daughter widowhood. My considerate mother accompanied me on what was supposed to be my honeymoon. Just as we were about to make a left hand turn at the traffic light in Half Moon Bay, California onto the Pacific Coast Highway, the only solidified part of the honeymoon that my fiance and I discussed, our wedding song came on the radio. My mother and I looked at each other and burst into tears. My dear friends from grade school sang the song at his funeral. So it was our wedding song, and our good-bye song… “I Can See Clearly Now, the Rain Is Gone”…
I remember dragging my mother to a bereavement group that I began attending two weeks after my fiance died. The group was so helpful to me, and I thought it might help her too. But I literally had to drag her out of the car. It didn’t help that the group was held at the same church as my fiance’s funeral.
My mother met someone in that bereavement group, and he and my mother soon started dating! My mother found LOVE again with Ed, giving me HOPE that I someday I would too. And I did. I met a strong man who saw through my tragic past, and who was confident enough to know that he could make me happy. My mother was ready to marry before me, but out of her SELFLESSNESS, she felt that her daughter should marry first. So I married my sweet John in 1998, and my mother married Ed in 1999. There was not a dry eye at either wedding, as our attendees were relieved and grateful that we both found love again.
I gave the lilac bush to my mother as a wedding present. As I bought my mother’s house where she lived when she got married, I inherited the bush. It has grown from a little bush to a giant beautiful blooming beauty of nature. It’s not just a lilac bush. It’s a symbol of a mother’s strength, mother’s love, mother’s hope, and a mother’s selflessness.