Red Carnations and Black Licorice
by Julie Arduini 4/26/2008 / Health
"I won't be a part of this mom, I can't."
Mom's tired eyes looked down to the red carnations my sister just handed her. I couldn't look either of them in the eye so I gazed to the gazebo where dad sat. I heard a cry and realized it was my own.
"All you had to do was buy some candy. Really Tara."
My younger sister, Bree, sounded worn out as well. Mom spoke.
"Girls, please. You're either part of the problem or the solution. I choose to be part of the solution."
My eyes lingered on dad. A lump grew so full in my throat I felt like it was cutting off all ability to swallow. The assisted living facility staff said the gazebo was dad's favorite place to go on a nice day. He'd shuffle out and watch the birds gather around the various feeders. Today he wasn't alone.
"Anyone coming with me?"
Mom's hold on the carnations was so strong it was bending the stems. Bree stood up, walking close enough to nudge me to action. I sighed, wishing I had the licorice only so I'd have something to occupy my hands.
"Tara, could you hold on me as we walk? I'm feeling frail this afternoon."
Bree and I came alongside mom. We each took the crook of her arm and escorted her to the gazebo. Tulips were in full bloom, the scent intoxicating. When we reached the first step to enter the gazebo, dad looked up and smiled.
"Well hello there, I'm Max. Who are you lovely ladies?"
Bree took her free hand and placed it on dad's shoulder.
"Daddy it's us. Mom, Tara and me, Bree. We're here to visit."
"I love visitors. Did you bring black licorice? Did you come to visit Iris too?"
Dad gestured to the woman sitting on the bench next to him. I recognized the woman's lavender shawl. It used to be mom's. I cleared my throat. Mom took a wobbly step forward.
"Max, its Anna. Iris, hello. That shawl looks beautiful on you."
Iris beamed, touching the purple fringe. She made a pouty face and sighed.
"Thank you. I love it but I don't know where I got it. Maybe Max got it for me. Did you, sweetheart?"
Dad took her hand and squeezed it. A tear ran down his cheek.
"I don't recall Iris. I hate that I can't remember."
Mom wiped her own tears and sat on dad's other side.
"Max, when I was here last time I remembered you said Iris liked flowers. I brought some. Would you like to give them to her?"
I turned away, my head throbbing, my tears so hot I thought they would scald my face. Bree wept as she sat on the other side of Iris. Dad took the flowers and smelled them.
"Red carnations. These sure look familiar. Someone loves these flowers; I'm not sure who though. Anna? Do you love red carnations? How do we know each other again?"
Mom patted his knee. For someone who felt so weak I never knew someone so strong.
"Oh Max, we go way back. We're very close. I'm happy to see you doing so well. I think every woman loves flowers."
"Yes, but red carnations? They just seem extra special somehow."
Dad seemed tired as he tried to recall why those flowers would be important. Inside his room were pictures of us through the years. Red carnations dotted our memories. He gave some to mom on their wedding night and each anniversary until the diagnosis. Red carnations were what Bree's prom date gave her. They were part of my wedding bouquet. The flower was such a part of our family history.
"Well for such a special flower, you should give them away. Would you like that?"
Dad wistfully nodded and took three carnations out. He handed nine to Iris, who squealed.
"Oh Max what a thoughtful thing to do. I'll cherish them forever. You are the best boyfriend."
Mom smiled through the tears. Dad reached across to Bree.
"Here young lady, I'm sorry I can't remember your name but with such a special flower, I think it's only right each of you receive one."
We each took our carnation before saying goodbye and leaving. None of us spoke on the way back to mom's.
The next day I returned alone. I brought red carnations for Iris and black licorice for dad.
*Based on the About.com marriage article on Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her family's decision to share this often untold Alzheimer's story.
Julie Arduini, http://thesurrenderedscribe.blogspot.com/, is devoted to writing for Christ in ways that encourage and inspire. A graduate of the Christian Writer's Guild, her writing resume is on her blog's sidebar. Happily married to Tom, they have two children.