My mother was buried on a beautiful morning in the California desert.
My sister and her husband had spent two or three hours walking around the cemetery in search of the perfect spot to serve as Mom’s final resting place.
They found it.
A few yards from the grave of a famous congressman, Mom — ever the American patriot — was laid to rest with a large American flag fluttering overhead. The quiet music of a cascading fountain helped to mask the commotion of nearby traffic. The snow-capped peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio stood against the blue of the newly rain-washed sky. My sister had even considered how nearby trees would grow to offer shade to those who would visit Mom in years to come.
Mom probably would have been a bit embarrassed by all the fuss over her. People spoke of her deep love of my Dad — her soulmate for more than 63 years. Others praised her spiritual strength. Someone remarked on the fact that all of her children and grandchildren have received Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior. And Mom would have been somewhat dismayed at the dozens of family members and friends who put their lives on hold in order to travel thousands of miles... just to honor Mom.
At the end of the graveside service, each one in attendance was given a single long-stemmed white rose as a remembrance. I carefully hand-carried mine as I hurried to catch my plane back to Minnesota. At the airport, it was impossible to not notice the number of young ladies who turned their heads and smiled in the direction of a gray-bearded cowboy with a long-stemmed white rose in his hand. The rose had a vial of water attached, and I looked forward to having it on the kitchen table for a few days as a reminder of Mom and the past days’ events.
When we landed at Minneapolis, I had to wait a few minutes while the passengers ahead of me gathered their baggage and moved toward the exit. As I waited, I found myself standing next to a row occupied by a young girl — perhaps 6 or 7 years old — and a lady I took to be her mother. They had been engaged in a whispered conversation; looking at the rose and smiling to each other. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, but some strange compulsion caused me to speak.
"Is this your mommy?" I asked the girl. She looked at the lady next to her and nodded "yes."
"Well, this flower is from my mommy’s funeral," I said, my eyes growing moist. "So you need to take very good care of your mommy… and give her all the kisses you can."
Then the crowd began to flow and I was gone.
It was 15 below zero at Minneapolis, and as I waited for the flight to Hibbing an icy blast hit the rose every time a gangway door was opened in the area. I could see that the rose was suffering, and took to sheltering it under my coat. Then, while boarding the plane, a sub-zero blast hit the blossom, nearly tearing off some of the petals. The plane was cold. Very cold. The blossom was cold to the touch, and I cupped it in my hand while trying to breathe warm air on it. The sight of the fading flower really hit me, and I fought back tears, unable to even control my voice enough to talk with my seatmate.
The end came at Hibbing, where a 25-below wind blasted the rose as I hurried from the plane to the terminal.
The next morning, the rose had a dejected droop, its petals tinged a deadly brown.
How much that rose is like my mother, I’ve thought. The beauty of youth; the joy brought to so many others; the sorrow of its decline; the inevitability of death. The biggest difference is that the rose will linger only in memory, while Mom is resting safely, as she put it, "In the arms of Jesus."
See you before long, Mom.
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COPYRIGHT © 2005 BOB LEMEN, GRAND RAPIDS, MINNESOTA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.