In honor of Charley and Goldie Wallace (My Parents)
By Brenda Chodrick
I have many fond memories of happy times growing up in the Ozarks but I most love to remember the summer evenings spent outside with family and friends. We caught lightening bugs and slapped mosquitos. Sometimes we ate watermelon and hand-cranked homemade ice cream. Always the most anticipated event every summer was July 21, Daddy’s birthday and the time of his ANNUAL surprise party. It was always a special time of being together, but as Daddy’s years began numbering into the 70’s, each of his birthdays became an important day to appreciate because we knew it could be his last birthday. On July 21, 2001, we met as we had so many times before and we celebrated Daddy’s 93rd birthday. It was an awesome time together with family and friends. We ate watermelon and ice cream and we sang old songs and laughed. Daddy had a great time and so did we. Two months later, he suffered a massive stroke and 6 days after that, Daddy slipped away and went home. We buried him beneath a stand of pine trees on a hill overlooking Houston MO, the town that had been his home most of his life.
Although it was hard to grieve for HIM because his tired spirit had so much longed to be free of the worn body that imprisoned him, I experienced a shaking of the foundation of my life that I had not expected. After all, I was a grown woman—I had not been under my Daddy’s care for many years; and the wit and wisdom that was so much a part of this simple man had already permanently molded my life. My sister, Ruby Ann, and I grieved and drew strength from each other, but we had a task before us-to comfort and care for our Mama. We knew she was grieving in a way far deeper than ours, but it was soon apparent she was suffering from more than grief. Five months after burying our Daddy, our already tottering foundation was again rocked as our Mama was diagnosed with advanced cancer of her stomach, colon, and liver. Even in the midst of this horrible time, God was designing a unique message for my sister and myself.
During Mama’s first admission to the hospital in Houston, Ruby Ann had a dozen red roses delivered to her hospital room. I didn’t see the roses when they were fresh but everyone that did see them commented on their exceptional beauty. Mama enjoyed them so much that when she left the hospital days later, and the roses were well on their way to decay, she insisted on bringing them home anyway. Mama came to my home in OK to receive treatment shortly after that and the roses were forgotten through that long winter. As the cancer ate away Mama’s life and her once strong body deteriorated, so did the once brilliant roses also wither away.
When we took Mama home to MO in April, there were the dried, dead roses still in the vase. Mama had a desperate desire to go home to MO and as much as she enjoyed seeing her family and friends, God had a greater reunion in store. One week after we took her home to MO, God suddenly took her home to Heaven. Although, we had known how very ill she was and as thankful as we were that she did not suffer any longer, the shock of losing our mother so quickly sent our world reeling again. In just 7 months we had lost the stability we had always known, we had lost both of the anchors of our lives that had been there secure, for as long as we could remember. We had her body laid next to the still fresh grave of our Daddy on that pine-shaded hilltop.
After the funeral, we noticed the roses again. Remembering how much Mama had loved them, we decided to take them to the grave and lay them with the fresh cut flowers from the funeral. It was not a monumental decision, just a casual gesture that seemed appropriate. Later as we tossed the dry, brittle roses on the grave, Ruby commented again about how beautiful they had been. Now, their dark, dry, shriveled petals contrasted dramatically with the moist, vibrant softness of the fresh flowers. We left the flowers-old and new on top of the mound of dirt that covered the cold, lifeless body of our mother.
The next morning with our sense of loss painfully evident and longing for a soothing balm, we drove back up that now familiar hill. What we saw there has become one of the most special moments of our lives. The dead, dry roses that we had so casually tossed on the grave yesterday had changed! No longer were they dry and brittle, but they were moist and soft. The brilliant red color that had seemed totally gone, now had reappeared and shone as a deep, dark red. Oh, I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for the change, maybe the night moisture or something, but we were not looking for scientific answers-we needed a comforting touch. And yes, there was still a difference—they obviously were not fresh roses, but the change was still dramatic. We sensed an overwhelming presence, a peace that passed our understanding as the still, small voice of God spoke to us from the depths of those roses. How totally awesome that the creator of the universe took time that day to send an extraordinary message just to us, to tell us personally that He understands about the death of a loved one; that he knows the agony of the separation; that He feels our grief. We felt Him gently explain that as it is the natural course of all living things to die-so it is the supernatural course for those things to live again! The roses on the grave had no connection to a life source, yet they seemed to have a supernatural life. The body of our mother beneath the ground had no natural connection to life, but her spirit was connected to the supernatural source of all life. We knew that day, our Mama who had known little joy in life, was now in the presence of the Lord where there is FULLNESS of joy!
Eventually we walked away, quieted in the awesome presence of God and thanking him for our own simple symbol to remind us every time we see a red rose, of all He ministered to us that morning.
As awesome and comforting as that day was, God was not finished yet. He still had a dramatic P.S. to add. As time passed, we became busy with our lives while continuing the steps of grief; but we both were dreading that special summer day in July when we would face the first birthday of Daddy’s, not only without him but without our Mama as well. When the morning arrived, Ruby called me early and I immediately knew it was not a casual call. She told me, there had been no fresh roses in her home for a very long time, but this morning as she walked into her kitchen, lying in the middle of the floor was –a dried red rose with sparkling flecks of gold on it. No one in the household knew from where that rose had come. No matter how it had gotten there, that morning we were reminded again how very important our grief is to our Father God and how He truly does understand our sorrows and pain. He doesn’t say we will never walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but He does promise that He will go with us through it.
He doesn’t promise that we will not mourn, but He does promise that we will be comforted. He doesn’t promise that we won’t have nights of sorrow, but He does promise that joy will come in the morning.
Comfort can come in many different packages but for my sister and myself, every time we see a red rose, it reminds us of our very own love letter from God and we smile.