Every year at around this time, a certain flower blooms at the corner of our garage. As we drive in or out, the huge blossoms always take us by surprise. It’s a combination of their beauty, their size, their fragility, and the realization that the summer is almost over.
I don’t know what internal structure supports their mammoth size, but it must get worn out by the end of the day. By dusk the petals are withered and drooping. The next morning those blooms, or maybe different ones, are open again drinking in the sunshine and defying physics. Buds are in line behind them for a show that will last several weeks. And then they’ll be gone.
This plant always begins to bloom when Steve is ready to go back to school, about the time I’ve forgotten that he’s only home in the summer. While he goes in to get his room ready practically from the time he leaves it in June, I tend to forget that vacations, lunches out, running errands together, and watching TV past 9:30 p.m. aren’t the norm. Just about the time I get used to having him home, he’s back to his classroom full-time. You’d think after 31 years of marriage I would be more in tune to the pattern and I wouldn’t be so surprised, but I’m not. You’d think I’d hate this time less, but I don’t.
When the flowers come I find myself asking: Did I make the most of it? Did I cherish our time together? Did I wring out every drop? I always want more time.
This year, and for every year that follows, the beautiful plate-sized flowers with their translucent petals will have another meaning too. Mom fell five times since spring. No broken bones, but with each trauma the Alzheimer’s took a little bit more. She’s forgotten how to move her feet to walk and what balance feels like. Even if her brain could remember, her muscles have lost their strength. The words she speaks are adrift in a sea of strange syllables. Her understanding of the things around her grows dimmer. Some days she won’t sing. Hospice has begun. She seems as fragile as the paper-thin petals on the blooms by the garage.