I’d like to tell you… a scary story, if you’d like to hear it.
The trouble is deciding where it started, so I’m going to start with what we know.
In the spring, our headquarters were hit with a massive tornado. I can’t remember what size they said, but whatever it was, it completely demolished a large portion of that city and our greenhouse was right in its path. All the windows in the main building were smashed, the statue of Persephone in front of the greenhouse was rubble, and there was nothing at all left of the tiny greenhouse that used to be the shop itself a long, long time ago.
A lot was gone.
The bosses, managers, call takers, and designers woke up to broken glass, steel beams bent and broken, flowers thrown about, and everything soaked.
For the first time since the owner died, our home office was closed. Phone calls were rerouted to our store to make up for the fact that our usual call-center now had a sunroof instead of an actual roof.
“I need to be connected to the main branch,” one woman said on the phone.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot connect you to the main branch today, our home office was a casualty of last night’s tornado.”
“But I need to order flowers for my daughter’s birthday today. She lives in Beaverton. You do her flowers every year.”
“I’m sorry, but we cannot make any deliveries to the Beaverton area today. Our main office was hit with a tornado last night.”
“Well, it’s not going to downtown Beaverton, it’s just right near your shop. It’s never been a problem before!”
“Well, due to damage from the tornado last night, our Beaverton location is not making any deliveries today.”
“Are you telling me I need to go somewhere else?”
“I’m sorry, but that is the only option at this time.”
Pause. Pause. Long pause.
“Did you say tornado?!”
It went on like this for six hours when we finally closed and we prayed that we’d be able to work something out soon. For the second time in two years, we were worried that we’d wake up the next morning with no job.
But the next day was business as usual. Phones were working again, we didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of thousands of incoming calls and demands of some very, very confused people.
It was chaos down there, of course. Sifting through the rubble for pieces and parts that still worked. They sent the majority of their flowers to our location so that they would at least be somewhere useful and not rotting in a cooler that didn’t work properly. Everyone tried to go back to normal. Everyone tried to rebuild. Everyone tried to ignore the lack of walls and windows.
And we just… continued working.
Like everything was okay.
Like everything was fine.
Eventually, they figured out some kind of system and things did somewhat go back to normal. Being far away from our headquarters, we didn’t have to experience the day-to-day rebuilding. Occasionally, someone would mention the tornado and we’d all say ‘oh, right- the tornado.’
It’s kind of strange to think of things as just kind of… happening. Like it happens and then it becomes past-tense. You think about suffering and misfortune as being an on-going endeavor, but the truth is that sometimes things are gone in an instant and the hard part is building it back up again.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen.
But we never hear about it that way, not when our shop is two hours away. Just vague reports about cleanup, the occasional shipment of damaged carnations, a couple broken pots,
We almost forgot that the cooler was broken.
Things were good, or as good as they could be- all things considered.
Then, for one month, we had a series of problems.
The first was that one of the drivers in Troy stole the trash truck and crashed it. It was all over the news and for a few days, people searching our shop would find that article at the top of Google Search.
You know- after news about the tornado and subsequent Presidential visits where I may or may not have put a curse on him, but who’s counting?
Then one of our trucks caught fire, and during the news report there was a discussion of how much more abuse our company could take.
For a few weeks, we were having trouble with our greenhouse manager. Things would go missing, just disappear and she wouldn’t be able to find them. We thought maybe she was just disorganized. Sheila was somewhat new to the position and there’s kind of a running joke that if you stick around long enough at the headquarters and don’t fuck it up too much, they eventually give you a manager’s position. So having not worked with her long, it seemed probable that she might just be ditzy.
And we get a call.
“Grandpa, I don’t get it- are you hungry or something?”
Grandpa narrowed her eyes, and she could probably hear that on the other end of the phone.. “I don’t think I understand your question.”
“Pistachio,” said Sheila the Greenhouse Manager. “I have four orders for pistachios. I don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“Pistachio, Sheila. Pistachio was the name of Friday’s special.” Sheila made a frustrated sound on her end of the phone, something like whimpering. “Darlin’ are you okay?”
She took a long time to pause. “No.”
And she tells us what’s been happening to her.
You think you understand the patterns of life, but then someone throws you for a complete loop.
Surveying the extensive damage of the tornado had been an ongoing process. They said that with some luck and insurance on our side we’d have the place back to normal by 2022. Or at least what served as normal because it always seemed like there was something happening that was decidedly abnormal. Our best bet was to just completely rebuild.
But it was a challenge to do that and still operate a business. The greenhouse that we kept all our flowers in had to stay open and working, despite having no roof. They had gotten the actual cooler to work so that the flowers would stay alive, but any time spent out in the actual greenhouse had proved itself a test of their life span.
It was turning out to be a hot, horrible summer.
Rumor had it that when it came time to survey the damage, our flower buyer Fluer fell to his knees and wept. I would have, too. It was a field of bent steel and broken glass- overturned dirt and roots askew.
But we had to keep going, like nothing ever happened. Because that’s what Americans do: we move on.
Or, as therapists like to put it: repress.
This meant that Sheila was working in the shell of a building, often late at night.
One morning, Sheila came to work to find a note on her desk. “I love you.” She thought it was sweet that her husband would hand a note to one of the greenhouse girls to be left on her desk. That is to say that she thought it was very sweet of him until she realized that the heavy scrawl on the paper was not her husband’s heavy scrawl. Whoever this was wrote with round, open letters compared to David’s compact slant.
It was obviously a joke- the people who worked in the call center were notorious for stirring up trouble for the sake of making the day go faster. She was too busy for it.
But then it happened again.
“I love you, Sheila.”
She gave it a few moment’s thought, considering all the pranksters in the main office. But it wasn’t worth taking time out of her day to address it to them when she had seven weddings to handle.
She took the complaint to one of the owners:
“Kyle, I don’t have time for this bullshit. I have too much to do to spend time dealing with all of these idiots.”
Kyle looked at the note, shook his head, and decided that he didn’t have time for it, either. “Just don’t respond to it. They’ll get tired of poking fun at you eventually.”
Just ignore them. I think I speak for every bullied kid reading this when I say we know how this works out. If a joke isn’t funny, don’t laugh at it. Sure.
The very next morning-
“I love you, Sheila- what is your answer?”
Figuring that she’d had enough, she wrote the prankster back. “My answer is leave me alone.”
The best way to deal with a joker is not to laugh at their jokes. Works for Batman.
The Joker didn’t like that answer. The Joker wasn’t joking.
The next day, there wasn’t a note. It was a million notes.
“Bitch” was scrawled across every surface: on all her papers, across her pinboard, carved into her desk. Papers were shredded apart, coffee had been spilled on all of her orders. Her office, or what seemed to serve as one, was completely destroyed.
This was a long way to go for a prank.
As she was heading up to the main office to discuss this with Kyle once more, she heard one of the call center operators say “Hey Sheila!”
And two heads turned.
There was more than one Sheila working at our shop and she didn’t know it.
“You’re Sheila,” she said, approaching Sheila Number Two.
There was no way to ask this question without coming off as… well… strange. “You don’t happen to have a… jealous ex-boyfriend or anything, do you?”
Second Sheila reportedly paused, trying to find an un-odd answer to a very odd question. “He’s not my boyfriend,” she said.
“Put your phone on idle. I need to talk to you,” she said.
Greenhouse Sheila has a presence when she speaks, which is something that comes with being a manager. Phones Sheila did not. She thought she was going to be fired. When a manager comes to you with intensity and tells you you need to talk, you fear for your job. That’s how it’s done.
“Who is he,” Sheila asked her, showing her photos of her office. Phones Sheila stepped back, rubbing her face with her hands.
“You remember like… a month back when we had to fire that guy for stealing the truck?”
“Darlin’ you didn’t.”
“We dated like… for a week? I figured he was crazy, but I didn’t know that he was THAT crazy.”
Sheila took a deep breath. “Your ex-boyfriend has been terrorizing me because he thinks I’m YOU?”
“Sorry? You’re sorry?”
And so the plans were laid to catch the truck thief. Cameras were installed in the greenhouse at all known points of entry, to be reviewed nightly for any trespassers. This proved an interesting challenge, considering the building’s notable lack of doors. Alarm systems were put in place. Sheila’s office was moved temporarily to the inside of the main office.
And business went on as usual because that’s what businesses do. But we had to account for all the missing and destroyed orders and in the course of that time, Sheila lost about a week’s worth of paperwork- and this is where we got caught up to speed.
The rest of this story becomes somewhat fragmented at this point, as we ventured on into the next busy season. But every time we called Sheila, we asked.
It wasn’t until months later that she had something to say about it.
Hours and hours of watching video footage turned up with nothing- no face matching the photo they had on file, no one coming in our out that wasn’t supposed to be there. Granted, they hadn’t invested much in the process of catching this man, but they did at least move her to a safer spot where this couldn’t happen again and made sure that everyone working in the greenhouse was out of there when they were scheduled to leave.
Again- nothing. Not even a blip on the radar.
October came like an angry polar bear- putting a layer of frost on everything exposed to open air. High winds, cold rains, very little warning. This greenhouse needed to be cleared and cleared now. Plants were sent to our store for safekeeping, and a cursory cleanup began.
While moving a cluster of plants and a sheet of corrugated tin, one of the greenhouse workers found something unusual. Tons of wrappers from pre-packaged snacks shoved into a corner, and a makeshift bedroll made out of insulation material.
The truck thief had been staying inside the greenhouse all along- sleeping only a few feet away from Sheila’s office, hiding amongst the rows and rows of plants when someone came.
And he had to have known that he had the wrong Sheila. But he did it anyway.
Eventually, they caught him. They never told us how, or where, but he’s gone away now and not likely to return to the greenhouse for a good long time. Stalking charges will do that to a man.
Reconstruction has begun and the first thing that the greenhouse gets is new doors.
So one of our most popular arrangements is a little $20 bowl of one dozen roses assorted. It says on our website that the colors of the roses will vary based on our inventory. So while the photo displays purple, orange, and burgundy roses, you may get one of any variety of colors.
Most people accept this.
Some people... however...
We got a call from our home office around 3:00 asking if we’d be able to deliver something to the other side of town before 3:30. The woman was unhappy with the roses and wanted something that looked more like the picture.
None of our drivers were back yet and traffic was terrible. Getting anything anywhere by 3:30 was going to be impossible. We could deliver it tomorrow or later in the day, but not by 3:30.
So the girl at the home office sighed and I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone. “I don’t wanna tell that to this bitch.”
Too bad, Susan. I got no control over the situation.
Fifteen minutes later, an order comes through our printer.
“DOZEN ASST ROSE SPECIAL. MAKE IT LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THE PHOTO SHE GOT ONE THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THE PHOTO AND SHE IS VERY PISSED PLEASE MAKE SURE IT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE THE PICTURE. WANTS TO MAKE SURE WE ASSIGN IT TO SOMEONE WHO IS AN ACTUAL DESIGNER AND NOT SOMEONE THEY PULLED OFF THE STREET BECAUSE SHE COULD DO BETTER HERSELF. ”
She gave Susan an earful, I see.
She’s going to be picking it up herself.
Which means that we’re going to have to deal with her in person.
So the woman came in and I could tell it was here almost immediately because she looked like someone pissed in her cornflakes this morning.
I got the arrangement for her, all boxed up and ready to go and she says the dreaded words:
“Can I ask you something?”
No you may certainly not. “Of course!”
“Why didn’t you give me this in the first place?”
“That particular arrangement varies based on our inventory and what we have available. So the colors and roses will not always match the photo."
She lifted her hand and held it three inches in front of my face. "Stop," she said. "Unacceptable."
If you have ever been on the cash-acceptance side of a register, you will understand the pure, seething rage that comes from someone invading the sacred personal bubble created by the counter.
This is my space. If you step into my space without permission, you are my enemy.
I will destroy you.
"Let me show you the arrangement you sent me and you will understand."
The thing about angry people on the other side of the counter is that they usually want something. In this case, she wanted us to be just as mad as she was.
And it was not going to happen.
Grandpa sidled her way up to me the minute that woman's hand went up. Everyone else in the room has fled the scene. I watched one of our drivers walk out of the cooler, see the woman's hand in my face, and watched her pivot straight back inside. The woman's photo showed hot pink, tea green, and cream.
"Sorry about that," Grandpa said. "The colors vary based on-"
"IT'S NOT ABOUT THE COLORS." She pointed frantically to the photo. "Look. At. It."
Grandpa and I shared a confused look.
"I... I don't think I understand," Grandpa said. "Is it the berries? The new one has more berries."
"No. Look at it! Look at it!"
"I'm looking at it, I just don't think I'm seeing the same thing you are."
"Look at the roses! They're huge! Blown all the way out! They won't last a DAY!"
"Oh, I see where the confusion is," I said. "Roses come in different shapes and sizes. These are cabbage roses- they have larger heads and fuller blooms right out of the package."
She was not convinced. "I would expect something like this from Flowerama, but from YOU?"
I decided this was my cue to exit the conversation and leave this woman with Grandpa. Of course, you can hear almost every word of their conversation from the back of the room.
"Look, I know you're used to dealing with regular people, who don't know what they're doing, but I'm a flower snob. I know flowers. I LOVE flowers. When I was a child I wanted to work in a flower shop but my mother told me that I would never make a cent at it. And I regret every moment I listened to her. I've always wanted to do it and I would work for free if you let me. Just pay me in flowers! I don't need the money! Just pay me in flowers!"
Grandpa is silently nodding, clearly not listening to her sob story about her boring life as a medical data entry specialist.
"You know why I do this? I do this because this is the anniversary of my mother's death. And every year, I buy flowers for someone special in my life because that's what she wanted: to make someone happy. And the woman I bought these for- she loved them. But they weren't what I ordered! And they were going to die in twenty four hours! So can't you see why I would be- ARE THOSE BLUE ROSES!?"
Kali was carrying one dozen blue roses to one of our junk buckets. She paused in the middle of the process.
"Yes, they are."
"Do they... do they come like that naturally? I've never seen them that color!"
"They are dyed, actually," Grandpa said. She motioned to Kali to bring her the roses. "Let me wrap them up for you!"
"Oh, I could never... oh," she said as Kali approached them. She fell in love with these blue roses.
Grandpa gives me a sly smile.
There's one problem. "I'm going to Olive Garden after this- will they survive in my car til then?"
"They should be fine. It's cool out."
"Hmmm. I don't know... I'm worried."
"We can put them in a vase for you!"
Grandpa gets my attention and tells me to make a vase out of these blue roses that were going to be trash.
So to recap, she's a self-appointed Flower Snob who knows So Much About Flowers, who did not know that roses came in different sizes and shapes, who did not know that blue is not a natural color for roses, and... to top it all off...
... these roses are dead.
Like... the roses that she thought were dead were just a fuller breed of rose. These are the style of rose she was actually looking for in the first place and they are dying. The petals are soft, they are starting to wrinkle, I'd give them about two days.
This Expert Flower Snob looked at these, turned them over in her hands, and said 'yes. These are good.'
I made the vase, I put it in a box, I let Grandpa finish their chat. She left with a smile on her face and as soon as the door closed behind her, Grandpa turned to the back and said:
"You can all come back out now. She's gone." And then to me: "I had her eating out of the palm of my hand."
"Oh, you mean this hand," I said, putting my palm towards her face. "UNACCEPTABLE!"
At 10:41am, August 20th, Grandpa received a phone call from a number she'd only seen once, picked up the phone and had the following conversation.
"Is this the call," she asked. She paused, waited. I watched her shoulders sag. "Thank you," she said- and hung up the phone.
She turned to the computer, opened up the order screen, and began typing an order for a dozen roses, and hurriedly began searching for a note she'd written in May. After tearing apart several folders in her desk, she found it in a manila envelope. She placed it in front of her, told herself that she could do this, and began typing.
An hour later, three purple rose arrangements went out to be delivered, each bearing the same card message.
Modern technology and selective breeding have come a long way in terms of roses. We've bred them to last longer and ship better. An unfortunate consequence of this is that to increase their longevity, we've also bred much of the scent away from them.
An exception to this is a purple rose variety called 'Moody Blue.' It is a medium red-purple with wide blooms and a strong smell. It was bred for its color, primarily, but we have yet to develop a variety of this color that carries the long life that other roses have.
There aren’t really any tricks to floristry, just a lot of trade-offs. Win some, you lose some.
The result is a wide-bloomed purple rose with a strong, almost fruity smell... and a short life span.
And they were Lana's favorite rose.
It was Mother's Day weekend, easily the busiest weekend in the floral industry, when Lana, one of our seasonal drivers, said she needed to talk to Grandpa before she went out. Blue took over the helm for a moment while Grandpa and Lana spoke tensely in the break room.
Lana had been working seasonally for our shop for years and she was always grateful to us. We'd always been there to get her out of a tight spot, she loved working around flowers and she loved seeing the looks on people's faces when they got an unexpected gift.
And she was fast. Oh, she was fast. She refused to drive one of our vans because she knew that if she got stopped by the cops she'd get us in trouble.
But we could only get so mad at her. Every day that she was there, she'd tell us how grateful she was, how much she loved us.
So we let her take things in her own car, which she routinely used to haul art to shows, and she sped off into the dust of 270 to deliver the goods.
When Grandpa came out of the break room, she sent Lana out on her route and stood in front of the computer wordlessly for a few minutes. She sighed, and went back to work.
It was a secret.
Grandpa is bad at keeping secrets.
"Lana has stage-four cancer," she said, after a few hours of letting the conversation sink in.. "She doesn't want to seek treatment. She just wants to die."
I nodded. I suppose I somewhat knew. She always talked about funerals and what she wanted to accompany her urn. She wanted one dozen Moody Blue roses in a grey bowl- something simple because she didn't want to make a fuss. Cures and treatments were for rich people. Expensive death rites were for the mourning, not for her.
"Don't cry for me," she'd said while Grandpa cried anyway. "No, don't cry. It's a relief to me. I'd rather just go quiet-like, let myself go. I don't want this to hurt anyone, I'm ready. Please don’t cry."
She told Grandpa this day because she needed help loading her van and that was the thing that did it. That's how she wanted to tell her. They said if she's very lucky, she'll last 'til August. She gave her special instructions to follow in the event of her death.
We weren't supposed to know. We had to work the entire weekend with Lana, knowing that she was dying and knowing that we weren't supposed to know. We were supposed to go on about the day, making funeral arrangements and having her carry them out knowing that very soon one of them would be hers.
We knew. But we couldn't let her know that we knew. Because if she knew that we knew, then she'd feel guilty about dying. And no one needs to feel guilty about dying.
So we tried not to bring it up, at least not when she was there.
But when she was gone, everyone had an opinion.
"You mean she's just going to hole herself away," Clair exclaimed when she found out. "Going to die like a dog dies?"
"Why aren't we doing anything for her," asked Kali. "It's not right to let her just waste away!”
"She's not even having a funeral," Violet said. "I think she should have a funeral."
I didn't agree with any of this. The only thing I agreed with was sending her some flowers whenever we were thinking of her. Any time we got Moody Blues in, I saved a couple for her.
The first time we sent her flowers, she got scared. "Oh god no- not yet! I'm not ready!" She saw the white flower van and when they said it was for her she thought maybe someone had called her death too soon. She called us the Grim Florist- a tongue-in-cheek symbol of death. The Grim Florist drives a pale van. She laughed about it- because it's okay to have a laugh at death.
Eventually the truth came out- that we knew. We all knew. Grandpa thought she'd be mad when she called her, knowing that she'd figure it out eventually.
"I didn't want to hurt them," she said. "I'm thinking about it enough for everyone, I don't need people thinking about me!"
"Lana, you have friends here- I want you to know that."
"I do, I know. But please tell me they're not worried for me. I want them to know that I'm happy with my decision."
"They're not worried," she lied.
We squabbled. It sounds weird to say it that way because squabbling is something that rich folks do when a relative dies and she was neither a relative nor rich. But we argued back and forth over what we should do, if we should do anything other than sending her flowers every two weeks or so. We should do something, we should do something, we should do something.
We sent her flowers.
Purples, pinks, rainbow colors- arrangements that were fragrant and huge. Because we were thinking of her, and no matter what we do, they said she'd be lucky if she lasted 'til August.
May into June, she kept contact with Grandpa. They talked on and off and we sent her flowers. She had good days, she had bad days. She had days when the pain was so bad she couldn't even get out of bed.
They gave her morphine. I can't judge her for that.
She took her dog in to the vet. She had a family set up to take care of him when she died and she wanted to make sure he was in good shape to travel. The vet gave the dog a couple shots and he died only a few days later- then stiffed her with a bill.
She just wanted it to end.
We sent her flowers. We told the delivery driver not to ask about the dog.
June into July, one of her medications interacted badly and she had a bad heart attack. She was rushed to the hospital and she thought perhaps this was the end. Despite the DNR tag, they resuscitated her and put her on a different medication. She was conflicted- grateful for the help, but please... please just let her die.
She just wanted it to end.
The doctor mentioned something about it being a shame that she didn’t have any family. His words were like sticking a corkscrew in her chest and twisting it.
We sent her flowers. We told the driver to leave it at the door.
I won't pretend to know how Hospice works. My grandfather was in Hospice in his last days and they set up a bed in my grandmother's dining room so he could watch birds from the back porch. All I know was that it was a great comfort for him to be able to die without pain, in a place other than a hospital, watching a blue sky pass by.
By some means, Lana was put into Hospice. Whether it was that visit to the emergency room that did it, whether she went of her own will- it's not something that I know. But the last Friday of July, she was taken from her home and put into a facility with 24-hour care.
She protested, but eventually she caved.
We got a call the following Tuesday.
She was doing well. She was on a lot of pain medication and she knew she was going to die very soon, but it was okay. She had a wonderful staff to keep her comfortable, and dead or not she still had art shows later in the season. Non-refundable, you know. Not great to leave an empty stall. A friend was going there in her stead to sell her pieces, and she had so many she needed to make before then.
She wanted to gift a $100 arrangement to the nurses of Facility 2-E, to thank them for taking care of her in her last days. She gave us a list of flowers- waxflower, dahlias, stock, anything that smelled good, anything colorful, basically the entire cooler's worth of flowers. And she wanted something for herself, too- something small.
When it came time to pay, her credit card maxed out. The vet bill, the hospital bill, the fact that she couldn't work, all her debt... that last $100 went to thank a handful of people who made her last days enjoyable.
Well that just wouldn't do. Grandpa had me make two $100 arrangements. And as luck would have it- we had Moody Blues in stock. She had me make it, knowing that I would probably be crying- which I was.
They were huge. Purple roses, bright pink snapdragons, purple hydrangeas. Big, beautiful, purple and pink. They towered over me. I had to stand on my toes to make them. The finishing touch was a banner hanging down: From your family.
"Be careful with them, Ned," I told the driver who delivered. "They're for someone very important."
I had forgotten that Ned and Lana worked together. I thought they'd missed each other since Ned only worked summers and Lana worked in the winter. I didn't think this through.
Needless to say, he was shocked when he brought the vase to her. And when he came back, he was distraught.
"She was so thin! I didn't know she was dyin'!"
"I'm so sorry, I thought you'd never met."
"I asked her if she was a Believer." Oh no. "And if she'd like me to pray for her." Oh no no no. "And she told me 'No, that's for you, not for me.'"
"Sorry, I should have told you. She doesn't want any of that."
"I've never met someone so resistant to it in my life! Isn't she concerned about Heaven?"
Religious talk makes me nervous. Being a Pagan in a largely Christian world, where many people prefer to assume that everyone they meet is likewise a follower of Christ puts me in a weird position.
I like Ned, but I will fight to the end for a person's right to religion, even a lack thereof.
"Ned, I'm sure she's had enough time to think about it."
"But she won't go to Heaven! It's not right!"
"It's her choice, Ned. She's at peace with the condition of her soul. We have to respect that."
"It's just not right, is all."
Everyone, or just about, has an opinion on how Lana should die, how she should be remembered, how she should be laid to rest. And this is the end of it.
"That's not for you to decide."
Me and Ned have chosen never to discuss Lana together.
We kept in touch with Lana, texted her every day. Sometimes called her. Towards the end, she was incoherent. We knew that she was on a morphine drip, but she was on so many pain medications that some days it was like walking into the middle of a conversation with a complete stranger.
She apologized a lot. She spent a lot of time thinking we were mad at her for things she had no control over. She took blame for things that couldn’t have possibly been her fault- like when three of our employees all suddenly quit at the same time.
“Lana, none of that is your fault. It couldn’t ever be your fault!”
“But it is! And I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”
“Honey, it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about it. No one blames you.”
But she just kept apologizing.
The last text message we ever got from her was an incoherent ramble of apologies, for things that she didn’t do, or things she could never have been involved in. And then the messages stopped.
And we waited. We watched her die in text format.
When the messages stopped coming, we stopped arguing over her. Stopped talking about her funeral, stopped talking about what we should do, stopped talking about the condition of her soul or where she’s destined to go when she dies. It stopped being theoretical, it stopped being something we had any say in.
We never had any say in it to begin with.
Ned prayed. Clair planned. Kali worried.
And at 10:41 on August 20th, Grandpa got a phone call. She typed up a message and sent it out to three people she’d never met, attached to a bowl of one dozen roses.
When you change the water out in a vase often, the flowers live longer. The trade-off there is that they don’t dry out. Some people prefer them to dry so that they can be preserved, but Lana made sure that they were in good care as long as she could see them. It was important to her.
So when they began to die, instead of drying they drooped. They hung their heads low and crooked their necks and watched her die with them from their space above her bed.
They told us that when it came down to her last breaths, the petals began to fall gently, and she was framed by a bed of purple rose petals, and that she smiled.
“Please don’t cry for me,” Lana’s message said. “I’m happy to have met you. Think of me when you see purple roses and know that I’m no longer in pain.”
The shop received a notice of her death, though we already knew. At the end of it all, we stopped arguing over what needed to be done. She didn’t have a funeral. The nurses at Hospice respected her religious choices (or lack thereof.) They let her fade gracefully into a layer of rose petals.
It feels important- symbolic, even if I’m not entirely sure why. It’s hard to articulate when something feels a way with no reason.
The notice of her death included an obituary and a flier for her last show.
It was August 30th, ten days after Lana died.
It was a craft fair like every other craft fair- a bunch of multi-colored, but mostly white, tents lined up in little rows, selling everything from postcards to life-size sculptures of forest animals hand-carved via chainsaw.
Victoria sat under a white tent adorned with hand-painted Christmas ornaments. She was in-between a vendor of windchimes made of reclaimed materials and, regrettably, someone selling lazily screenprinted ‘Trump 2020’ campaign t-shirts.
She didn’t seem too enthused to be there.
I wouldn’t, either.
One of our drivers, Joan, approached the tent. Victoria didn’t recognize her at all, which is to be expected. We never really met any of Lana’s art friends. Joan looked at all the ornaments with a kind of bewildered look on her face for a moment, confirming that this was the right place.
“I knew Lana,” our driver said. Victoria nodded. “I’m from the flower shop.”
“Oh,” Victoria said. “I have something for you, then.” Victoria rustled around in her totes to find something, then handed Joan a small white box. “She didn’t know if your shop could receive packages.”
Joan looked down at the little white box. “Thank you.”
She waited until she got back from the show to open it.
Inside was a Christmas ornament that she’d painted for us and a handwritten card. Grandpa needed someone to read it to her- Lana’s handwriting was small, and I only really guessed at some of the words.
I know that I should have told you sooner, but I didn’t think you’d care. I thought that I would die alone because I didn’t have any friends or family, but I did! I realized when you sent me the roses that I always called you ‘my girls.’ You’re MY girls! You’re my family, even if we’re so different. And I wish I’d told you because keeping secrets is not what family does. But thank you- thank you so much for the roses, thank you so much for the friendship. You don’t know what it means to me. I love each and every one of you.
There should be some kind of moral, but I’m at a loss for one. And I think that the world wants me to be sad because this is sad. But really- I think I’m just relieved. After all the debate, the arguing back and forth, the praying, and not trying terribly hard to keep a secret- it was over. She left the world in her terms.
The doctor said how sad it was that she didn’t have any family. He was wrong.
The doctor said that if she was very lucky, she’d last ‘til August. He was wrong.
She was a lot luckier than he’d thought.