“Now is not a good time to be mad at her,” my mother said to me one day, when I was moping into a bowl of soup.
“Why won’t she get help?” I demanded.
My mother looked at me gravely across the table. She and Auntie had the same general features, but my mother was the ugly duckling of the two for sure. And she told me that the beautiful swan might die any day.
“She won’t get help because there isn’t any, Carrie.”
I’ll never forget those words.
Now I know the verbiage: brain stem gliomas. Pontine tumor. Survival rate: extremely low. Life expectancy after discovery: short. Suggested therapy: radiation. Success rate: poor. The patient that accepts the treatment either lives a few more months, perhaps another year, feeling like every day is a dreary New England day with no hope of the clouds breaking, or dies looking like the deepest, longest, coldest day of winter. Auntie chose neither; she chose, instead, to follow the sun.
She was overjoyed to see me and smiled but didn’t cry; the crying was for me to do. I never saw her cry once. She had lost ground while I was away but she was still glowing and still painting, though now she was not afraid to lie down on the flowery couch and gently rest her precious head on a pile of comfortable pillows.
Now it was me who made the lemonade and the chicken on the grille and we ate it for supper and then Auntie would sleep and she would have a smile on her face and I would just watch her sleep and wish that I could go where she was going because it seemed like a terrific place.
But in the end, of course, I couldn’t. Instead, she left me the terrific place that she had created for herself on the earth plane.
She died in Summer House one early afternoon when I was in school. My mother and I found her on the couch with her shining blond hair spread out on the pillows she always laid on and a peaceful look on her face, an easy look, like carefree, endless summer. Her eyes were closed gently as if in a magnificent sleep. Her paints and brushes were on the coffee table and the agreeable, familiar scent in the room told us that she had been painting flowers. She was still warm, just like the bright winter sun shining down on her and kissing her skin with its rays.
The calendar read January.
I still come in the door everyday and look around and find a new flower that she painted in those days when she was dying. It’s like she is still painting them for me to find while I’m at work. Sometimes I still smell fresh paint and I know she’s there.
And everyday that I go to my shop and I’m surrounded by my life’s work, my cut flowers and floral arrangements for the happiest and gloomiest of times of my customer’s lives, I’m sure to always have a pink rose in a bud vase somewhere nearby and regardless of the time of the year, I’ll breath in the gentle smell and close my eyes and all the world will feel like endless summer.
And I know she’s there. And she’s smiling. And the season, of course, is summer. For what other season is there, but summer?