I made a discovery this week which sparked memories of two stories – interlinked by time, memory and the metaphor a beautiful flower…
The first story starts with the gift of a potted Orchid, given to me by my friend Gill Potter, when my mother died, some eight years ago.
The Orchid, in its many forms, is such a gorgeous and outlandish plant and this particular one was a truly beautiful example – white, with exotic purple markings, its’ flowers springing from a base of plump, glossy leaves, betokening an origin far from the British Isles we both now inhabited.
Gill was one of many friends I made during my time with Damsels in Success – a self-development organisation for women. A piece of history now belonging to memory – one which had a huge impact on my life at the time…
We rarely see or speak to each other in these post Damsels times. From my perspective, the relationship has simply and silently transmuted, as they so often do, through circumstance and the shifting sands of time. I still have the plant though, a thing from and of that time. And the plant, in its own time, will, every now and then, flower again.
And maybe that beautiful present stuck in my psyche… For when, several years ago, another Damsels friend of mine died, I was moved to make the gift of an Orchid, too.
The reason for that gift of mine was Caroline Ashby – a member of one of my Damsels in Success groups, who became a friend – one whose colourful words and deeds were woven into the everyday fabric of my existence.
When she relocated many miles away for the sake of her autistic daughter’s education, our interactions moved online. Rarely would a day pass therefore when we didn’t chat, like or comment via Facebook.
Several years later she told me she had a brain tumour. I was shocked and scared, but able to discuss it openly with her. She was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour which would mean having to shave her head. I quietly determined to buy a scarf in her favourite colour purple, to wrap around her head, as a post-operative present.
The next Facebook post however was from her Robert – husband, announcing that Caroline had suddenly died.
I read in disbelief, shouting “No, no, no!” at my computer screen… But, still, she was gone…
Despite the many hours Caroline and I spent together, I had only ever met Robert once. But I decided that now was not the time to stand on social ceremony… So I ordered an Orchid to be delivered to her husband and daughter, giving the florist the very specific brief that it had to be a flower of the deepest purple they could find, since I wanted this to be a gift, in some sense, from Caroline herself. Not knowing Robert very well, I couldn’t know how such a gift would land…
After some time had passed he thanked me and sent me a picture of the plant, at the time when it had finally dropped its last, gorgeous flower.
As for me, it was the oddest / most contradictory mixture of feelings, losing Caroline… I say that in the sense that I was devastated and missed her so much, but simultaneously felt so very happy and grateful that I had had the joyous gift of knowing her. And it was that impulse that would always make me smile, even when my eyes were misted with tears.
A year after she died, Caroline’s husband Robert posted on Facebook, telling of how she was remembered every day “in all the little ways that we do things now.” He thanked family and friends for the support they had given to him and their daughter, and of how “happy and proud” he believed she would be of the way they had built their life since her passing.
There on the post was a picture of the orchid I had sent 12 months before, next to a beautiful photograph of Caroline. The orchid had come back into blossom, and “so” Robert said, “we go on with life, taking within us all that Caroline meant and how she showed us to be good people and love each other.”
On reading that and seeing the flower in beautiful bloom – I cried my hybrid sad / happy tears all over again…
And in this present day time of Corona, I came across the first plant, given to me by Gill. It was languishing on the dusty corner of a window sill, forgotten and un-watered. Yet despite all that, it was flowering, once again, as orchids do.
It was flowering – despite this tainted time of Corona. Neglected. Left alone. But still it flowered. Because it had to. From a life force which impelled it to.
So I pulled it out from obscurity. I gave it pride of place in the centre of the room. I watered it and nurtured it once again.
It reminded me of the stories I have just recounted – of two friends – now distant, yet distinct and interwoven, part of the fabric of my existence, whether held in either physical or heart space. Not least were they reminiscent of what keeps me motivated and constantly moving forward.
Because you see, even in this unrecognisable time of Corona, life goes on. And as I sit in self-isolation, I can choose whether to wither away, or simply survive; or, to continue to face the sun and bloom.
So I choose to thrive through this time. To run and write and reach out. To work out how I can do what I do differently, in altered times, so that I can do it to the best of my ability.
And still, I know too that there will be fears and frustrations – obstacles in my way.
But so too, will there always be Orchids.
From Sandie xx
PS: Two of the people I have reached out to in this time of Corona are Gill and Robert, who graciously agreed to let me share their parts of the story before I published it. Robert told me too that the orchard bloomed all through last year and has only just dropped its last flower…