Sunday, April 17, 2016

Orange Azalea

Once upon a time I met Corinne, a hospice nurse who's presence with her patients touched me to my core. She lived next to my mother, and she precepted me during a clinical rotation with hospice - my chosen community nursing experience. She was an avid gardener with a green thumb who loved growing the unusual as well as the ordinary. She was an extraordinary nurse and an amazing human being. One time when my mother's side yard flooded and then froze, she grabbed her skates and my kids and their skates, and spent a joyful day in the side yard, slipping and falling and just having fun. 
I watched her during our days together as she navigated end of life issues, financial issues, fear issues, family issues, medication and pain issues with her patients and their families with an amazing level of pure unconditional love and selfless presence. She brought only herself - no judgements, no opinions, just herself. They adored her, rightly, and would tell her their deepest fears without even a glance in my direction - she made them feel so safe, and so secure, that I disappeared from the space, and she was just there with them, holding hands, opening hearts, loving. She was the epitome of nurse to me. 
Then she developed cancer. And many hearts broke and many prayers went up as her friends and family rallied around. I wasn't lucky enough to be that close, but I watched from next door and prayed along with the rest that God would heal her. After some time and treatment, her cancer went into remission. So she made it a priority to LIVE. She and her husband traveled more, to places mostly familiar and nearby. They rode bikes together, adopted a new healthier lifestyle to help keep cancer at bay, and spent lots of time with family and friends. It seemed as if a brush with death had taught her how to live in a way even more open and more giving and move loving than she'd lived before, which felt impossible.
She once tried to grow an orange azalea - not common in Massachusetts. But it didn't do very well in her yard, so she gave it to my mother. I coveted it, and my mother didn't give it the attention it deserved. When my mother lost her house, I stole it from her back yard. It was a scrawny puny thing, but I loved it. 
Then the cancer came back. Again we prayed, and my mother and I made soup, and her friends from hospice moved into her home and stayed by her side and gave to her and her husband what she had given to so very many. And after a long and hard battle, Corinne died, and the orange azalea suddenly took off. I'd moved it it to my house in Bernardston, and it thrived and grew huge. 
When we sold that house, I cried over the azalea. I had actually included it in a list of things we would be taking with us, but time grew short, and no one could be found to help me dig it up. And it needed help by that point. It needed a truck, and a chain, and a group to pull it up. So it stayed behind.
After we moved to West Northfield, our realtor and very dear friend Pam found one, and brought it to me. She wouldn't let me pay for it. I cried as I planted it, because it felt like home. It grew and bloomed and did very well in the back yard right outside the bedroom window. When we left, I had to leave it behind. I didn't think it would do well in a pot in Plymouth for however long our time there lasted, and I didn't know if it would thrive wherever we landed next. It made me very sad. Orange azaleas somehow now mean home.
When we got here and I started to get to know my very beloved neighbors Troy and Wilma, I discovered that Troy and I share a love of flowering shrubs - although he is a genius and an expert with them and I am a novice. Camellias and azaleas are his favorites. My yard is very barren for the time being because the former owners weren't into the whole yard maintenance thing, and Troy will often call me over to see specimens he thinks are worthy of note. 
The other day he called me over to see his newest azalea - only one year old - a native orange azalea; Tangerine Delight, orange with a little lick of yellow on one side, the exact one Corinne tried to grow, that followed me to Bernardston, that Pam found for Northfield, that I once again had to leave behind. I literally choked up when I saw it. I asked where it came from (Asheville) and promised myself I would get one sometime this spring.
Just now there was a knock on my door, and Troy and Wilma were in my front yard. Troy pointed to a big pot between my bigger maple trees, and said "Well, now, where did THAT come from?? Don't you think you should get that thing into the ground?"
It's my orange azalea. It has a few buds coming - things are colder in the mountains and a bit behind here, and it should bloom in a bit once it's planted. And they won't take a penny for it, and Wilma told me about the iris she bought for $3 each, and Troy bragged on his new red azalea that should bloom in a few days - these are from the mountains and are a little behind us down here - and I tried not to cry (unsuccessfully).
I think I must be home.