A Lesson from a Rose

2014 Debra B. Hori

My Chihuly rose bush died last summer. The gentle curves of the petals and their fiery orange color is named after the work of the famous glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, who is known for his bold, colorful installations.

Its brittle skeleton stood for months in the rust-colored ceramic pot that is almost as tall as I am until last week when I tried to dig it out. I kept digging and digging, until I was almost doing a handstand, upside down, reaching deep into the pot. My hands feeling for the roots that were holding the bush to the soil and as I found each thick, ropy strand, I tugged hard to unearth it. I wiggled the bush like a loose tooth and used the shovel as a lever to lift it, twist it. It still held firm. After more digging and more root breaking, I stood back and marveled at its tenacity, its unwillingness to let go of its place in the pot. Wiggling and tugging, layer by layer, I thought to myself, I don’t need to go to the gym when I can wrestle with a rosebush!

I had worked up a sweat on this faux-Spring February day, the warm breeze helping me to enjoy a day out in the garden. In Southern California, we have these rogue winter days where the temperatures can soar into the 80s. Shorts weather.

The warm breeze brushed my face, and led me back to another moment in our garden, when I planted the Chihuly with Robin, my husband. We’d spend time side by side on our hands and knees, talking, or just working in silence. It was one of the few times when we could relax together with no other focus but to devote ourselves to getting our hands into the dirt. Like the roots in this pot, there were straggling ideas that were reaching out to me. What was it?
The life of our loved ones who have died are like that rosebush, as we, who go on living, tenuously hold on to to what remains of the life we shared with them until something breaks us and we begin to excavate and uproot. The deeper the roots, the deeper the breakage, as layer by layer, the roots are uncovered, severed, and slowly we separate from that place. It is no wonder we use the words grounded and rooted to describe stability and home.

So too with the death of a loved one, especially a spouse. The death is clear. There is no life left. But the work of slowly removing its hold in the pot is left for those who remain. When we lose a loved one, the obvious grieving takes place. The funeral or memorial service, the tears, the dark, endless nights. Then, making arrangements: bank, credit card, all the countless things that need to terminate. The multitude of changes that occur once life resumes and goes on without our spouse, our loved one. And still, there are times when those roots surprise us, and something we thought we let go of still holds us until we find ourselves digging in the dirt once more, feeling for those roots and severing them. It’s hard work. It takes time. It pulls at us as we use the shovel to twist and lift, and use our bare hands to feel our way around, to excavate whatever it is that is holding it firm.

Perhaps this feels too severe. But getting back to my rosebush, it is still sitting in the pot. I had to stop, weary of my task, muscles aching, feeling a need to attend to other parts of my life. So, the half-full pot of soil still holds the dead rose bush, which is much tipsier than before, but it is still not yet free of the pot.

I will give it try on another warm day. Or perhaps, I will ask someone to help me, to keep me company. I am thinking about what will go in its place and took a trip to the plant nursery to see the tomato plants, basil, mint, something different than a rose.