Wednesday, May 4, 2011

R.I.P. Ms. Rose


     It was a typical morning. The kids and I burst in the office at Lad 'n Lassie, running late as usual. I finished signing Savvy in and looked up, right into the eyes of Ms. Rose...a picture of her, that is. It was attached to the donation box that had been sitting on the counter since she went through chemotherapy for the first time. It had been collecting dust lately, but now it was right smack in the middle. Good news, I thought. Maybe she's a candidate for another kind of treatment.
     I asked the the directors how she was doing, then glanced at the clock, instantly regretted starting the conversation when I was running so late.
     "Any day now," Doris said. 
     "...she'll be going into treatment?" I answered. But then I saw the look on her face and the numb poured over me. I felt cemented to the ground. The clock stopped ticking. Suddenly it wasn't that important if I was late to work.
     The horror of it framed my entire day.
     She is one year older than me.
      I thought of her 2-year old daughter and hoped someone had taken lots of pictures of them together...and that Ms. Rose had taken a lot of pictures before she'd gotten sick. Had I taken any pictures lately?
     From then on the donation box was a reminder to stop the madness. It made me ask myself: this a big deal? Is it worth yelling over?
     Any day now.

     It was Valentine's day but you wouldn't know it walking into Lad 'n Lassie. For the first time  I could remember, the place hadn't been transformed into a red heart and cupid wonderland.
     In the office, images of Ms. Rose covered a poster board. There were pictures of her with her signature curls pinned on top and tumbling over her shoulders. That glossy smile.
     A wedding picture
     Pictures with every one of the L 'n L teachers. 
     posing with kids she'd taught throughout the years.
     and then ones of her when she'd lost her hair and wore a page boy hat. Her glossy smile strained.
     Next to the poster was a flyer for her memorial. 
     I gasped but the tears came anyway. Lupe (one of the directors) and the mom she'd been talking to came over and hugged me.  Lupe had been with her when she passed away. 
     Lupe's eyes shone with tears, but her smile was serene and wide.
     "You should have seen her," she said, "she was beautiful. I pressed my cheek against hers and she asked me to help her pray. She said, 'I'll miss you but I'm ready to go home.'"
She died in her sleep not too long after.

     When I got home, a bouquet of flowers sat on the table for Valentine's day. They were all my favorite flowers in all my favorite colors. Paul had also gotten Savvy two white roses. I decided not to tell him about Ms. Rose until that night.


     What got me was when a little girl wearing a purple Tshirt and leggings, (her diaper giving her the precious baby bubble butt) walked down the aisle towards the easled poster filled with pictures memorializing her mother. She ran past it and the flowers, to an Elmo helium balloon that was attached to one bouqet. Somebody untied it and gave it to her. She turned and walked back to her seat with a grin on her face to where daddy sat. People smiled and cooed at her as she passed them, then burst into tears as soon as she was gone. I hoped that for the rest of her life people would not look at her and see loss death. 
     It took every muscle in my body to keep from crying. I was amazed at the force of grief.
     I was rocked with guilt.
     I'd thought of visiting her in the hospice since it was so close to where I work. I'd wanted to thank her and tell her how exceptional she'd been in the lives of Eli and Savvy...and mine. But I could never conjure the nerve. No matter what I said to her, it would be a good bye. Wouldn't that be insulting to someone who was going to live?
     I tried to focus on the purple. Many people wore purple, obviously her favorite color. Sprays of it everywhere: Tshirts, flowers...her husband wore a purple tie. 
     She'd planned her own funeral. Every speaker and singer said she'd asked them to participate in her funeral. She'd choreographed the order of events and had even helped put the video of her own life together.  
     I needed air. I needed to write. At the lobby of the place, someone had put out index cards, pens and boxes for guests to write letters that her daughter could read much later, when she was older. I wrote:
     Dear Lilly,
         Your mommy was soooo special. She was my son and daughter's teacher. Her smile helped me through tough times, especially when my son was in her class. It was during the hardest times when her smile would soothe me. Nothing could be that bad if she could smile like that after dealing with my darling all day. 
          She did the best impression of my son I've ever seen...the way he pokes his tongue against his cheek and looks down at the floor when he's embarrassed or has gotten caught. I hadn't even noticed the tongue thing until she did the impression for me the first time. 
          But while she touched me so much when she was alive, I just want you to know how her being gone has helped me... just as much as when she was alive. Every time I am losing control or perspective as a mother, your mommy's face pops into my head. I remember how hard she fought to concieve you, and then stay in your life. How could I take this for granted?
          You will always be in my prayers.

     Eli and Savvy's mommy


     I'd decided not to write this. 
     But then I had to find a baby picture of Eli for a school project. I came across Ms. Rose again. She was in pictures with both my kids at the Halloween parades, Cinco de Mayo dances, class photos...there was the program of her memorial service a month ago. I'd put it way in the bottom of the red silk box of stray photos.
     Then there was the note scrawled quickly on a teddy bear memo pad.
     "Dear mom and dad," it said, "I just wanted to share with you something that Savvy said today. All day long, her response to anything I said was, 'praise be to God!' It was precious and I knew you'd love hearing about it. Love, Ms. Rose."
     It has been the first and last time a teacher has ever given me the gift of a glimpse inside allllll I miss when I am away from my children.
     I knew this would be hard
     but she's worth every tear.

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