Bittersweet beginnings

The holiday season without a loved one

The middle name of “Rose” was passed from Madison Geering’s grandmother and aunt to her. The name is cherished by Geering as a keepsake from her late grandmother. (Madison Geering)

My middle name is Rose. Just like my aunt before me. Just like my grandma before her.

The name always felt like a common root running through the garden of our family: a symbol of unity between us. In my mind, I always took it as an overwhelming compliment: that I was graced with the same name as two of the strongest women I’ve ever known.

But just before spring bloomed into season this year, I wilted. At 90 years old, my grandma passed away.

With the dementia fogging her memory, she would often forget my name, where she was and even her own identity. Still, when I would nestle myself next to her on her weathered leather couch, I felt that connection. 

After miraculously surviving multiple forms of cancer, enduring many injuries and battling her dementia over the years, my grandma was given hospice care. At that point, we knew what to expect. But still, when my dad told me that she had passed away, I held photos of her to my chest and cried.

She was gone.

Months later, as the holidays approach, the idea of Christmas Eve without her is as cold as these late autumn nights. For every year as long as I can remember, our family would celebrate together on Christmas Eve, playing games, catching up and cherishing the warmth of the season. With the pandemic, holiday gatherings have already been cancelled for families worldwide.

Knowing that the beloved centerpiece of our family won’t be there for the new year adds another layer of icy sadness.

It was with that weight in my heart that I asked my dad if we could visit her and my late grandpa’s graves this week. My dad, sister, youngest brother and I drove to the cemetery, purchasing flowers on the way there.

As we approached their headstones, I noticed that there were already poinsettias perched next to them. We guessed that my aunt had left them there. The idea of her visiting with the same emotions as me was comforting. The four of us padded carefully to where my grandparents were laid to rest, walking in solemn silence.

Then my brother waddled over to their flat headstones and plopped himself right on top of them. Our eyes widened out of shock, but he just smiled up at us with big blue eyes and chubby cheeks. It was morbidly cute.

Life ends, and it hurts. It hurts for many people, in many ways. But life also begins, and it can heal. It heals for many people, in many ways.”

“I guess he’s sitting on grandma’s lap,” I said with tentative amusement. It’s strange to think about how blissfully unaware children can be to situations that we treat so sensitively.

My sister and I worked on placing the bouquet we brought into the built-in vase beside the poinsettias. I carefully arranged the blossoms and swept off some scraps of grass from the headstones. 

Looking back at my brother, I asked him, “Do you want to give grandma and grandpa a hug?” 

In response, he teetered over to the crisp flowers I had arranged and reached to give them a hug. Before we could stop him, he leaned over the vase embracing the bouquet in his pudgy arms and accidentally snapped several of the stems in half.

For the second time, we let out hesitant chuckles at my brother’s oblivion. We cut off the damaged stems, placing the slightly shorter flowers back into the vase.

My brother was still smiling.

Sitting there in the middle of the cemetery, the toddler was so full of life. He was shining with it, glimmering in the late morning sun. 

My grandmother had once been the same way, with her clever smirk, winning every game of Lotería. My grandfather had been too, although I never had the chance to meet him. A cool breeze ruffled my hair, a whisper of winter fast-approaching. At that moment, I realized something.

I had never met my grandfather. And my youngest sister, who will be born in late December, will never meet her grandmother.

A bittersweet feeling fluttered in my heart. The grief of the past months welled up behind my eyes, but I felt the corners of my lips raise.

Life ends, and it hurts. It hurts for many people, in many ways. But life also begins, and it can heal. It heals for many people, in many ways.

Life ends and life begins and life goes on. Sometimes it’s messy and painful and sorrowful. Sometimes it’s silly and beautiful and wonderful.

The seasons change and the world turns regardless. It’s up to us to find our way out of the darkness. Each year, roses will bloom in the spring and wither in the fall, but in the garden of a family, there will always be new ones to stand tall.