A yellow rose bush called Celia
A tribute to my mother
Relief. It’s what I felt when Celia, my mother, died. Then I felt a sense of guilt because I felt no sadness- not immediately anyway. I was just relieved.
I was relived knowing I would not have to avoid her phone calls or text messages. I was relieved knowing I would not have to face another disgruntled or verbally abused home health provider. Celia’s death lifted a burden off my shoulders. Relief.
After Celia passed away, I allowed myself to rest from a decade-long burden of caring for her, defending her, and protecting her that had left me scarred in ways I did not yet recognize. Healing from my mother’s burden also came with a heavy dose of guilt. Guilt for not having more patience for her. Guilt for not providing her with more help. Guilt for feeling relief as she took her last breath. Guilt.
Eleven years after she passed, I felt less relief and thus, less guilt. I began to recall the better years. The happier mother. The “prime time” Celia, as we called her. The active mother who won over all our friends. The school nurse mother who worked at my high school but somehow didn’t ruin my life there (she ruined it in other ways, but never at school).
The image that always crossed my mind when I thought of her was a single yellow rose. She loved yellow roses. She didn’t buy them for herself, nor did my father buy them for her. (He wasn’t that kind of husband). She spoke about yellow roses like one talks about a book that changes one’s life.
When I turned eighteen, I decided to send Celia flowers on my birthday as a thank you. Thank you for giving me life, for raising me, for loving me, for irritating me, for meddling in my life, for encouraging me, for defending me, for being my mother. For the next 22 years, I sent her a bouquet of flowers -with yellow roses included -every year to mark the day she gave birth to me. Every year the bouquet was different — but always with yellow roses. The last bouquet I sent her was in 2009. Celia died in 2010 before my birthday.
For the last 12 years, I have slowly shed my sense of relief and guilt. A solid decade of on-again-off-again therapy, different types of meditation, yoga, a deep change in nutrition and a good amount of physical exercise helped me move from relief-inspired guilt to the absence of guilt. I found peace. Peace.
I realized that I was at peace with my mother’s death when I found myself planting a yellow rose bush in front of my house. It was a subconscious exercise at first. But once I recognized that planting a yellow rose bush was the final step of mourning process -the final step in reaching peace- I did it with purpose.
I thought of my mother as I struggled to dig through the hard clay soil. I thought about how much she loved yellow roses. I thought about how her face lit up when she spoke of them. Her voice was clear and crisp as I placed the bush in the ground, “this is going to look so nice here”. As I filled in the hole with potting soil and compost, she said “I’m sorry for all the grief I caused you”. Then as I grabbed the garden hose and began to water the rose bush, I felt a light breeze on my face, I looked at the rose bush and I heard myself say “I love you Celia.”