The last place I took my mom to visit before she died was the Capitol Rose Garden.
Pain was a monster she had been fighting for weeks. I assumed the role of faithful servant, bringing her weapons that seemed increasingly feeble in their battle against the beast. Denial of her condition lapped at our heels — for her, due to fear; for me, due to exhaustion.
I suggested the rose garden because we shared a love of roses, and because she could access it easily with her walker. Before we left the house for the car, we layered on more pain and anti-nausea medicines, found her hat, filled up a water bottle and gathered her walker. I hoped it would be enough.
The weather seemed aware that this was Mom’s swan song, even though we were oblivious — an azure sky topped a 70-degree day with a light breeze. I found a parking parking spot and from there we shuffled painstakingly, slowly, slowly, slowly to the garden. She took several breaks on the short walk, and I bit my lip to hold back my anxiety over her fatigue. We said little on our way there, my mom focused on movement, which seemed quite difficult, while I watched closely to make sure her unsteady gait didn’t lead to a fall.
As a result, I didn’t notice the roses until we arrived at the garden. They did not disappoint.
A riot of color greeted us. Reds, pinks, purples, oranges, yellows and whites in every direction. We stopped a moment to catch our breath, then Mom led the way to the first rose bush.
We stood in front of each rose bush and savored it. Each one had a slightly different color, size and shape. Some roses had a single row of petals, while others had complex clusters. Some sported a single color, while others looked reminiscent of a sunset.
We read the names of the different roses. We pointed to things that we liked. We asked each other, “Does it have a smell?” And we replied “Yes it does, come smell it,” or “No, not this one.”
The rose garden forms concentric circles with paths cutting through the middle. We wandered slowly up and down the grass, taking our time, enjoying the simple, sensual pleasure of the flowers in bloom.
I took some photos of my mom there, smelling the roses, resting on her walker, sitting with me on a bench.
For the previous two years, mom’s anger had permeated her enjoyment of most of our interactions. The pandemic robbed her of many opportunities, and she resented not being able to do more.
However, on that spring day in the rose garden, she seemed to have arrived at a place of acceptance. We enjoyed our time together. It felt just right.
Mom died two weeks later, the first week in May, less than a week before Mother’s Day.
This year, I drove by McKinley Park in East Sacramento around the anniversary of her death, just before Mother’s Day. The splashes of color beckoned. I stopped and parked the car. I walked slowly through the roses, making my way around the labyrinth. I soaked in the colors. I inhaled the heady scents. I took in the beauty not only of the tight rosebuds waiting to bloom, but also the browning edges of roses past their prime and the petals falling to the ground, signaling the impermanence of all things.
I saw other moms there with small children, walking among the flowers, the children dipping their noses into blossoms to check out the scents. It reminded me of the gift my daughter-in-law gave Mom and me for Mother’s Day last year, a photo montage of moments that we shared together with her and my son, with a quote by D. Nurske:
In the park
the child says:
It will not count
On that day, almost a year after my mother’s death, I stood among the flowers and inhaled their scent, and it brought me back to that rose garden a year before. The two moments merged.
Whatever your relationship with your mother, it is surprising to find yourself in a world without her in it.
I’m grateful for the memory of our last outing together, and thankful that a riot of flowers can bring that time with Mom back to me.