Must Love Flowers
For the third time in as many minutes, Joan Sample glanced toward the kitchen clock. She’d expected to hear from her youngest son by now. She’d invited Nick to dinner, and prepared his favorite dish, even though it was her birthday. He hadn’t responded, and she wasn’t sure if he’d show or not. The dining room table was set, and the chicken enchiladas were warming in the oven, along with Spanish rice and refried beans. Joan wasn’t fond of chicken enchiladas. So this was what it had come to—she had to bribe her son to visit. Steve, her eldest, had a good excuse, seeing that he lived in the Phoenix area. He did call, at least.
Slumping down in her favorite overstuffed chair in the family room, she reached for the television remote. The program was one of the Sunday weekly news reviews that she routinely watched. Talking heads. Only Joan didn’t hear a word of what they were saying, and furthermore, she didn’t much care. Rarely was there anything good to report.
Mother’s Day had been the week before, and her sons had sent a floral bouquet of calla lilies and white roses along with a box of chocolates. At least they’d remembered how much she enjoyed flowers. It was bad luck that her birthday fell a mere seven days later. Steve and Nick seemed to feel they’d done their duty with the flowers and chocolates and covered both Mother’s Day and her birthday.
Her sons’ lack of caring, showing little love or appreciation, wouldn’t bother her if only Jared was alive. Her husband never forgot her on Mother’s Day and tried to make her birthday extra-special. Even after four years, she grieved. Her entire life went up in flames the minute Jared was pronounced dead.
She’d recently heard that the dentist who purchased Jared’s practice was doing well. That should have pleased her, because it assured her that Jared’s patients had made a smooth transition. Many had been with Jared for years, and since she’d worked in his office as his receptionist and bookkeeper, she was on a first-name basis with several of them.
Joan had loved working with her husband. It would be difficult for some couples to spend 24/7 together, but not them. They’d made a great team. They’d always been close and were each other’s soulmates. Her life was empty without Jared. Stark. Void. Dark. With him gone, it felt as though she had no purpose, no incentive, no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Shaking her head, Joan refused to allow his loss to bury her in grief as it had so often. It’d been four years. Four long, torturous years. The pandemic certainly hadn’t helped. Jared hadn’t been gone more than six months when the entire country had closed down. The first few months she’d remained sequestered, afraid to open her front door for fear of catching the virus. As the weeks progressed and time lagged on, Joan had grown comfortable with the isolation. Living in a cocoon became welcome. Familiar. Routine.
As the restrictions eased, she gradually ventured out a few times a week. Not for any extended length of time, and always with a mask, being cautious. She managed whatever was on her list—she always had a list—and didn’t dawdle longer than necessary before rushing home to safety. More often than not, when possible, she ordered what she needed online, something she’d grown accustomed to doing during the pandemic. Living in isolation became the norm, and she discovered she preferred it. Life beyond her front door could be risky. Something to be avoided.
Deep in her thoughts, Joan was startled when her phone rang. For a millisecond she didn’t even recognize the sound. Leaping from the chair, she hurried back into the kitchen, searching the counter, which was the last place she remembered putting the phone. She swore she spent half her day searching for the device. She’d do away with it completely if the nuisance wasn’t necessary.
Without bothering to see who it was, she grabbed it on the fourth ring. “Hello.” Her greeting sounded breathless after a near-frantic search.
“Happy birthday” came the singsong voice of her older sister, Emmie.
“Thanks,” Joan said, grateful to her sister, who had become her greatest encourager. Emmie had sent a lovely card earlier in the week, along with a gift certificate to the Cutting Edge, Joan’s favorite hair salon. Emmie was friends with the owner, Charlene Royce, who had worked as a hairdresser for years at Cutting Edge before purchasing the salon. The two had gone to high school together.
Emmie was her usual cheerful self, her voice light, as though she was on the verge of laughing. The two were close, even with the distance that separated them physically.
“Are you doing anything special to celebrate your day?”
Joan shrugged, although her sister couldn’t see her response. “Not particularly. It isn’t necessary for someone my age.”
“You’re how old?” Emmie teased.
Her sister knew good and well exactly what birthday this was. “Fifty-four. Please don’t remind me.”
“You make it sound like you’re seventy.”
That was the way she felt. “I will be soon enough.”
“But not yet. You have a lot of life to live, little sister,” Emmie chastised. “What you need is an attitude adjustment. Do something fun for once. Get outside and enjoy life, breathe in the fresh air. Take a walk around Green Lake. Go shopping and buy yourself a new outfit. Take in a boarder.”
“A boarder?” What a crazy idea. She couldn’t imagine what her sister was thinking.
“I’ll get right on that.” Her sister was full of good ideas, none of which Joan intended to do anytime soon.
“I’m serious. You need to break out of that shell, and the best way, little sister, is to do something for someone else. I promise you’d feel better about life in general if you found a way to give to others. I talked to Charlene when I ordered your gift card; she is taking in a boarder and is excited.”
Joan rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “You’re not serious.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Still, it’s something to think about. By taking in a boarder, you’d be helping someone, and that someone just might help you. Jared has been gone four years. It’s time you lived again.”
Joan didn’t need to be reminded how long it’d been since she’d lost her husband. You don’t spend more than twenty-five years with a man, living together, working together, sharing everything with each other, and then simply get over the loss of him because it’s time.
“In some ways it feels like yesterday.” Even now there were days when she wanted to tell Jared a joke she found on the Internet or something she’d read. She caught herself recently wanting to share an idea she had about painting the kitchen, only to realize he was gone. More than gone. He was dead and buried.
“I know how hard this time has been for you.” Emmie’s voice softened. “I’ve mentioned it before and you’ve always blown me off, but Joan, sweetie, you need to reconsider talking to a counselor.”
Nearly every conversation with her sister landed on the same topic. Each time, Joan had dismissed it out of hand, unwilling to consider discussing the pain in her heart with a stranger. It was hard to talk about Jared to anyone without tears instantly flooding her eyes. She’d be mortified to break down in front of a stranger. It went without saying that she’d become an emotional mess because she wouldn’t be able to stop herself.
“If not a counselor,” Emmie continued, apparently unwilling to drop the subject, “then a grief therapy group. I’ve heard they can be helpful.”
“Joan, think about it. What can it hurt? You’d meet others like yourself who have lost someone they loved as much as you loved Jared. You’d get the support you need and find a way to lean in to the future.”
Joan automatically shook her head. “It isn’t that easy.”
“I’ll cry, and you know how much I would hate that.” She could see herself sitting in a circle, bawling her head off, to the point that she wouldn’t be able to speak. Then she’d need to blow her nose, and when she did, she’d sound like a honking goose. Nope, not happening.
“You’re being silly. So what if you get emotional—don’t you think everyone there would understand? My guess is each person in the group has shed buckets of tears themselves.”
“I’ll think about it,” Joan offered, hoping that would appease her sister.