Please, Daddy, I need you, incest, family taboo, dad and daughter, I have always been amazed by how life can be like a rollercoaster. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out and life is good, something hits you from behind and takes you out at the knees. Only a year or so ago, my life seemed absolutely perfect. I was enjoying an amazing career as Director of Marketing for a Fortune 500 company, with the love and support of the most wonderful family a guy could hope for. I felt on top of the world, then we learned the shocking news: my loving wife of twenty-five years had cancer.
Connie and I met in college, and by our third date, I think we both knew we were made for one another. She was beautiful, which certainly didn’t hurt, yet she was also as sweet and smart as a guy could dare ask for. In spite of all her amazing attributes, she was just a regular girl without a hint of pretension, and unlike anyone else I had ever known.
We were married just about a year after graduation, and both embarked on our professional careers. We decided not to immediately start a family so we could devote our attention to our jobs and to one another without distraction. We waited about five years before we decided to try for a child.
I was on the fast-track in my career, so when we found out Connie was pregnant; we agreed that she would stay home with the baby while I worked. Times might have been tough, but we both liked the idea of her staying home rather than paying for a babysitter to partially raise our only child.
Connie was a wonderful mom, just as I expected. She relished her role as primary caregiver, and didn’t seem to miss her life as an aspiring corporate tycoon. She and Kelsey seemed to share a special bond that I admit made me a tad jealous, yet when I arrived home at night, Connie made sure I had some alone time with my baby so I would not miss out on anything. We seemed to become the perfect team, intuitively understanding each other’s needs.
When Kelsey went off to school, Connie became a bit bored staying at home without much to do. For the first couple of years, she puttered around the lawn most days, tending the gardens and making our yard the showplace of the neighborhood, yet I could tell she was somewhat unfulfilled.
Since she had some free time during the day, I encouraged her to find something to which she could lend her talents. Having always been a lover of plants and flowers, she enrolled in a floral design program offered at the local community college. She loved it and seemed to have a real knack for it, bringing home the beautiful bouquets she created after each session.
Within weeks after the class ended, she began working on me to finance a flower shop of her own. I was making decent money at that time, but not so much that we could stand to risk a large sum. Although it was a scary venture to contemplate given our finances, she quickly wore me down and almost before I knew what happened, the ink was drying on a lease for Connie’s shop, which she named Everything’s Coming Up Roses.
Connie’s shop was never a big money maker, but she met her expenses and even added a few bucks in our coffers over the years. I wasn’t concerned about whether she brought home a large paycheck; my sweetheart was happy and living a fulfilled life, so how could I complain?She seemed to take to being an entrepreneur as easily as she did to motherhood.
Everything’s Coming Up Roses was near a large hospital, so she received lots of drop-in business for bouquets for both ill patients and recent mothers. But Valentine’s Day was by far Connie’s busiest and most profitable time of the year. If fact, she would prepare for it weeks in advance.
I once asked her what she wanted for Valentine’s Day, and she said simply, “Help in the shop.” She told me that would be the most wonderful and romantic thing I could ever do for her, so that year, I took the day off to deliver bouquets – and from then on, a tradition was born.
When Kelsey was in elementary school, my mother used to babysit her on Valentine’s Day so I could devote time to Connie and the shop. My second year helping out, I returned to Everything’s Coming Up Roses after my last delivery to find the place closed and most of the lights out. I had a key and let myself in, then called for my wife.
“In here, honey,” I heard from the back room, so I moved into the shop after locking the door behind me.
I entered the office and was shocked by what I saw. Connie had spread a thick blanket across the floor and was lying upon it completely naked, like a nymph in the woods. Around her were scattered rose petals of all colors, their fragrance punctuating the air, while two candles burned nearby. She held out her hand and beckoned me forward. I sank to my knees next to her and she engulfed me in a loving embrace.
We made sweet love that evening on the office floor, an experience that was beyond perfection. I knew how much she loved her little store, so sharing intimacy in that setting was wonderful. I think we both felt a deep desire to please one another, so the moment was truly magical. The next few years, we happily re-enacted the scene with flower petals scattered around the room and candles burning brightly.
Kelsey assisted at Everything’s Coming Up Roses on Valentine’s Day when she was old enough to stay for the day without a sitter. She would help with the arrangements, while I would play delivery boy since I was of no use with the flowers otherwise. After all the craziness of the day, the three of us would stop for Chinese takeout on the way home, then we’d all sit on the living room floor and eat as a family before retiring to bed early. I greatly missed making love to my wife in her office as we had done years before, but our family time was every bit as special.
By high school Kelsey had grown into was the spitting image of her mother. She was an inch or two taller, but in most other respects appeared a carbon copy of the girl I met in college years before. They both had the same dishwater blonde hair and blue eyes, and given the way Connie had taken care of herself, to me they appeared more like sisters than mother and daughter.
Just over a year ago, Connie had been feeling run down, so I suggested she see her doctor for a physical. We instantly knew something was wrong when he called back and asked her to come in for more tests. Within just a few days, we learned her diagnosis, and next thing we knew, her treatment regimen was mapped out before us.
I took time off from work and spent almost every hour at Connie’s bedside while she endured the barrage of cancer drugs and treatments. As you might expect, each time we arrived we toted armfuls of flowers for the other patients my wife had befriended. When the test results came in day after day, it was clear by the doctor’s expressions that they were growing increasingly pessimistic. They said things could turn around at any time, a thought I clung to as if my entire body were made of Velcro.
Connie was more realistic and tried to prepare me for the future. She did not give up hope, mind you; she just appeared to have the need to mother me and tell me everything would be okay as she had always done. I had long admired her strength, but never more than during her battle with cancer.
One afternoon, Doctor James sat us down to break the news. In spite of their best efforts, they could not stem the tide and Connie’s cancer had spread. He did not give us a definitive timeframe, but made it pretty clear he was expecting months rather than years. My wife and I just held hands silently as tears rolled down our faces. We could see the anguish on his face as he broke the news, and I actually felt sorry for him in spite of our own plight. Both Connie and I gave him a hug and thanked him for all his efforts, because it was clear he and his staff had done their best.
After Doctor James left the room, Connie turned to me with a surprisingly strong look on her face. She asked, “How should we break the news to Kelsey?”
Hearing her words, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. Connie and I had always been each other’s rocks; how could I go on without her? I had always tried to be a strong father for my daughter, too. How could I tell her that I failed to keep her mother safe?
“You need to be strong for Kelsey, honey. Take care of her; she’s going to need you now more than ever,” she said with a forced smile. I nodded my head, but tried my best not to think about the future. “You are also going to need her. Both of you have to find a way to move forward with your lives. I know you and I have shared a special love, but if I can’t be here with you, I need you to promise me you will try to keep your heart open to love. I can’t bear the thought of you alone,” she added, squeezing my hand. It was just like Connie to think about everyone other than herself.
Kelsey was finishing up her final year of college, so we tried to be as positive with her as possible so as to not affect her studies. Just weeks before her graduation, we had to finally break the news that things did not look good. She spent as much time at home as possible thereafter, but was able to take her finals as planned and did as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
Fortunately, Connie was able to make graduation, which was the most bittersweet weekend of my life. I was so proud to see Kelsey receive her degree, and I knew my wife felt the same. We both beamed as our daughter walked across the stage and accepted the scroll in her hand. We shared a wonderful dinner with Kelsey and her friends, and things could not have been more perfect. Sadly, reality came crashing back into our lives early the next morning when Connie had a seizure, so I had to get her back to the hospital as rapidly as possible.
Within weeks, the doctors released her to live out her remaining days at home, and we prepared a bed where the home health aides could attend to her without being too intrusive. Connie barely shed a tear and was strong right to the end. We lost her on a Tuesday morning, with both Kelsey and me at her side. She looked very peaceful as she took her last breath, which gave us both a small measure of consolation.
The funeral was just for family, and then we hosted a larger group at our home afterwards. The party was a celebration of life, just as Connie had asked for. She told me she wanted no crying, but that was completely impossible. The loss of such a special soul was felt by everyone, so as we reminisced, we went from laughter to tears easily. But there was a lot of laughter, and I knew Connie would have been pleased.
Of course there were tons of flowers, which she would have loved. There were blooms of all sizes, shapes and colors, filling the room with a fragrance reminiscent of her little shop. The sensation left me thinking of much happier times, which made me smile but also at times made Connie’s absence more acute.
I constantly looked around the room for Kelsey as I felt the need to monitor how she was holding up. She seemed to be doing quite well and floated between our friends and lent support to those that needed a hug or a pat on the back. She was so much like her mom, it was amazing. I marveled at how someone so young and small could be so strong.
Once everyone had said their goodbyes, Kelsey and I were alone in our large home. After all the chatter of that day, the house was suddenly very silent. We sat together on the couch and looked towards the fireplace. Connie’s remains were in an urn on the mantle below our favorite picture of her.
My wife made it clear she did not want any gaudy mausoleum and wanted to be returned to nature in a simple way. Kelsey and I put our heads together, and came up with a plan we were sure Connie would have approved of. In the rear corner of our backyard, we had a small patio on which my wife would spend her free time in the summer. She had surrounded it with plants, but there was one open space that she never had time to fill in.
We mixed her ashes into some fresh potting soil, and then used it to plant Connie’s favorite rose variety, a hybrid tea called, “Olympiad.” Its blooms are a deep shade of red and are perfectly shaped like you might see in pictures. It’s also highly fragrant, which reminded both of us so much of Connie as she was always surrounded by the scent of flowers.