One Saturday at Walmart, I heard a tiny, happy voice behind me. “Granny?”
I turned to see a brown-haired two-year-old boy toddling toward me. His mother, a smile in her voice, said, “Did you think she’s your granny? She might be somebody’s granny, but she’s not your granny,” and, together, they headed off down the baking aisle.
I can still hear it: his voice, her perfect answer.
His voice is with me now, months later. His complete, curious hope. His is the voice that fills my ears in the space where Stephanie Grace’s lilt should be.
One December night, when Abby’s plane was arriving very late in Jacksonville, I went to Steak and Shake to await her arrival. There were only a few people in the restaurant–a father with his teenage daughter, a man working on his laptop, and a family of four: parents, a seven-year-old boy, and an impish three-year-old girl with straight brown hair and huge dark brown eyes. She was overdressed in a burgundy velvet dress with fancy shoes, and she was busy, looking and acting like my elder daughter April did at that age–this was no time to sit and eat! There was so much to explore!–and so much like my granddaughter Stephanie Grace would have probably looked, had things been different. Had she lived.
The little girl’s relaxed parents let her march around the center loop of tables. I just watched, vicariously enjoying their happiness, and I was okay (I am now, generally). Then, she stopped in front of their table and began slowly spinning in a circle. She reached out, grabbed a handful of fries, and then started eating them, eyes closed, as she spun. It was such nonsense and such joy–the clack of her shoes against the black and white tile, her velvet ribboned dress, her squinched eyes and stuffed mouth. I felt so robbed–and yet, so happy that someone, at least, had this.
Her mother glimpsed my tears, and we spoke for a second, but she already understood so much.
She knew how rich she was.
She sent her girl to hug me before they left, the child whirling out the door, a smiling swirl of brown-eyed velvet.
April 13th, Stephanie Grace would have been four. We are not a family who has a cake and remembers. We don’t light candles on an altar in our home. We don’t talk about our sorrows–they are too big and heavy for our words and hearts.
But when Stephanie Grace was born, friends sent plants, and somehow, we managed to plant them in a makeshift memorial garden in the side yard. There are hydrangeas and roses, and this year, I added elephant ears from my father’s funeral, in a nod to those by Grandma Williams’s back stoop.
On Stephanie Grace’s birthday, one month into the quarantine, I was determined to plant yellow roses and freshen things up. And I don’t know how the day got away from me, but it did.
It was 9:00 p.m., and the roses hadn’t been planted. But, her birthday demanded recognition, so I got my shovel and the mulch and headed outside to garden by headlights.
The soil was hard, and I was angry and tired and feeling deprived. I wanted my granddaughter to be four. To be in my house, or living down the block, my Friday night Chick-fil-A buddy, my Sunday morning seatmate. I wanted to feed her macaroni and feel her shiny hair. I wanted her birthday to be me with her, me with my daughters, me with my husband, us together with her.
I didn’t want to be planting flowers in the dark.
And then, through the darkness, I heard voices. A childhood friend and her mother were walking in the cool night. Their voices were surprised: in my yard, despite the late hour, Luke Combs’ music filled the air; the car’s headlights beamed upon the yellow roses, and I stood, covered in sweat and grime, holding rocks for the flowerbed’s border.
“Rachel? Is that you? It’s been forever.” (Truly, it had.) “What are you doing out here? What are you working on?”
I can do it almost offhandedly now. Sum up Stephanie Grace’s little life, explain anencephaly, tell about April’s subsequent move to New York state.
There are no longer tears. There is no gasping or panic. There is just the profound ache, the absence.
And it was good to stand there in the dark and share the story of my granddaughter with these dear friends, sweet people, who let me stand there, aching amid the roses, and just for a moment, be somebody’s Granny.
2 thoughts on “Planting Roses in the Dark”
I enjoy reading your posts. I plant flowers in Becky’s memory too. It’s therapeutic.
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Just beautiful and I understand completely. My Selah Paige would have been three in June. I love chances to talk about her. God bless you Granny and thank you so much for sharing.