This story is a companion piece to The Promise, which can also be found in the Stories section on this website.
“Dad, you sure you want to do this?” asked Aaron.
“I know I should say, ‘no,’ but, yes I do. More importantly, your grandmother does,” said Devon.
“The hospice people won’t like it.”
“It’s not them as much as it is her doctors, but we’ve talked about it, and she’s firm in her decision, and you know what your grandmother is like when she is sure about something.”
“Yes, I do.” Aaron smiled to himself as he thought of the many, many times his grandmother had put her foot down oh, so gently but so very firmly. As a little boy, he was in awe of how he found himself in bed when he didn’t want to be there or actually eating things little Brussels sprouts. “Dad,” he cleared his throat. “What time do you want me there?” After a few seconds of silence, he said, “Dad?” again.
“I’m here.” Aaron could feel his dad’s heaviness. He knew how difficult he was finding this himself; he couldn’t imagine what his dad was feeling. “If you can get here by one … You’re sure your company is okay with this? It’s your busy time of year.”
“They’re fine with it. They have a really good life/work-balance program.” Aaron didn’t tell him it wasn’t quite as easy as he was making it sound. It had all worked out, and his dad didn’t need to be burdened with the drama along the way.
“That’s good. I’m going to call your grandmother.”
“Okay. Bye, Dad, ‘til tomorrow.” Aaron heard the line go blank. He wandered into his living room and looked out the huge window that faced the river and lights in the next town. It’s not fair, he thought, shaking his head and pressing his lips together. He thought of all his dad had been through and how Devon had made it through all of it with grace. Aaron wasn’t sure he could have done as well. But, in a way, I guess I did, he thought. Well, some parts, like being raised by Dad as he was by Grandma. But, I never knew my mother; he had a father for the first ten years of his life. Aaron left the window to go sit on the sofa. That must be really tough, to know a parent and lose that person. And now, we’re both losing her. I wonder if it’s any easier at fifty.
He pulled a photo album from the coffee table and thumbed through it. Anna had put it together for her 75th birthday present to Aaron. She had just started noticing there was something wrong with her sight. She said she wanted him to have it while they could still enjoy it together. His dad had one, too, made especially for him.
Occasionally—well, until lately at least—Anna would spend part of a day with Aaron. They’d make lunch and talk, and she would root around in the bookcases until she found the photo album. After the first couple of visits, Aaron made a place for it on the coffee table so she could find it easily. They’d go through a few pictures at each visit and relive good times and “do you remember how scared you were” times and “I’ve never laughed so hard” times, and Aaron would remember how special she’d made his birthdays and how nervous he always got before swim meets until he heard her clapping and shouting from the stands. They’d laugh at the silly pictures and remember the love and caring. She’d take his large hand in her tiny one and stroke his fingers and say how strong he was. He knew she didn’t mean physically, and she’d remind him to use his hands for all good works and always remember to be thankful. He’d promise her he would always remember, and he did. Sometimes, whatever girlfriend he had at the time would be there. She would inevitably comment afterwards how lucky he was to have someone like Anna in his life. All Aaron could say was, “Don’t I know it.”
Devon was surprised when Anna picked up on the first ring. “Hi, Mom,” he said with all the love he could put into the words. “How are you tonight?”
“I’m doing really well. It was a good day.” Devon knew he’d have to ask her caregiver. Anna always said it was a good day no matter how much pain she was in. She’d always been like this. “I have a little headache,” she’d say when he was a boy. He found out later she had migraines. When he had his first, he understood what an understatement that was. He also understood she wasn’t being brave or fighting her illness or all the phrases people use to try to cope. She simply chose to live as she did: centered and balanced, positive and joyful, confident and deep in God’s Love and riding Universal energies that sustain in ways nothing of the physical world can. She was totally blind now and very frail but still the strongest person he would ever know except for maybe Aaron. “How are you, honey?” She asked.
“Good, Mom. I got a couple new patients. One wants to include her dog in her treatment. I’ve suggested this in the past, but this is the first time I’ve had a patient request this. She should do well.”
“I’m so glad. She sounds like a lovely person. I know God will be able to work through you to help her.”
“I think so, too. You taught me so well, Mom. Thank you.”
“Oh, Devon, you were so easy to teach, always so sweet-spirited. You raised Aaron well, too.”
“That’s a lot to do with your influence. He couldn’t have had a better mother.”
He heard her pause. Talk of Caroline always was so difficult. He missed her still. He didn’t know if Aaron did having never known her. Still, there had to be a hole there. Hopefully, it was a very small one. A stroke just after giving birth; it seemed so cruel. Anna, thankfully, changed the subject before Devon was pulled into the depths of that memory. “I’m so looking forward to tomorrow. Is there anything you need me to do?”
“No, I’m just so happy you suggested it. Is Lisa the one coming with you?”
“Yes, and Norma wants to come, too. She’s actually taking a half day off from her other job so she can come. She’s been such a blessing. Both of them are. Norma has been learning to meditate and practices with me, and she helps me with my yoga. She’ll make a wonderful physical therapist.”
“Should I consider her for the practice?” asked Devon.
“You just might want to do that. She needs a practice site and then will graduate next term,” said Anna. Devon had to smile. That was the extent of his mother’s advice: seldom offering but always ready with something helpful if asked.
“Then, I’ll talk to her tomorrow. I thought I’d come have lunch with you. Aaron will get to your place about one, and the driver and his assistant will be there soon after that. I like them both. I’ve used them before when someone’s needed a private car service.”
“You’re a good man, Devon. I couldn’t have asked for a better son. You have always amazed me.” She paused. “Gretchen just walked in. Good night, sweetheart. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Devon could barely respond. He turned his phone off and sat and felt and then had to quit feeling for a bit. He made a cup of tea and sat on the back porch. He was glad the weather had cooled off. He wanted tomorrow to be perfect for her, for all of them.
Anna awoke pain free. It had been so long since that had happened she didn’t immediately recognize it. She stretched tentatively. “Thank You for a wonderful morning,” she breathed. She heard Gretchen at the door. “You’re awake,” Gretchen said cheerfully, “and you look extra pretty this morning.”
“Flatterer,” said Anna, but she smiled, pleased.
“Do you want to stretch before you get up?” Gretchen asked.
“Yes, a little stretching is always a good thing.” Gretchen helped Anna put her knees together and gently moved them to the left and supported them as Anna breathed. She was so very frail that it amazed Gretchen how limber she was and how beautiful. She had worked with many patients in the course of 15 years, but Anna was the first who she considered truly beautiful. Even her web of fine wrinkles had a dignity and prettiness, and Anna’s hair. Gretchen could only hope hers would be as silvery-white and shimmery when she was in her eighties. Gretchen brought Anna’s knees up slowly and then supported her as she dropped them to the right. No little gasps or even a twinge across her forehead. “You seem to be in very little pain today, Ms. Prescott,” she remarked.
“I’m pain free,” agreed Anna. “It’s refreshing.” They continued the morning routine that Gretchen knew now by heart. She remembered when she’d started a number of months ago. She considered an elderly patient wanting to do yoga an oddity and wasn’t sure she approved. But now she was researching the things Anna did as a way to help other patients release their physical and emotional tension. Release those, and the mind clears, she’d learned.
The rest of the morning disappeared in activity, and soon they were on their way to the hills outside of town. The day was sunny with a bit of a breeze. When they arrived, everyone had their tasks. The driver and his attendant made sure Anna’s chair was firmly positioned on the grass, placed Anna carefully in it, and then went back to wait in the car.
“Are you comfortable, Ms. Prescott?” Lisa asked as she fussed with the blankets.
“Yes, very,” replied Anna. She had worn a blouse with deep ruffles, and she pulled her shawl around her shoulders. Aaron noticed with pleasure that it was one he’d given her.
He went over and, seating himself on the blanket near her, said, “I loved this shawl when I first spotted it. It reminded me of you—dignified, charming, comforting. How are you doing, Grandma?” He fingered the shawl’s soft fluffiness.
Anna reached out, and Aaron met her hand with his. “I love this shawl, too. It has just the right amount of warmth. It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Yes, the hills are just starting to turn for fall, but the flowers are still blooming,” he said looking around.
“What colors are they?” Anna asked.
“Just white like they always are here. Do you want me to pick one for you?” Aaron knew Anna liked to leave flowers be, but he thought he’d offer in case she wanted to feel one.
“Yes, I think that would be acceptable today,” said Anna nodding quietly.
“I’ll be right back.” He gently laid his grandmother’s hand back in her lap. He went over to a patch of larger blooms and reaching down said quietly to them, “My grandmother can’t see you; physically, she’s blind. So, I’m going to pick one of you so she can feel you.” He chose the perkiest one as it seemed to want to be chosen most though none shrank away from him.
“Here, Grandma,” he said as he put the bloom in her open hand.
Anna felt the delicate petals, held the flower to her nose, and then sat quietly holding it a few moments before giving it to Aaron with, “You keep it, honey.” Aaron knew she had been praying over it and accepted it gratefully. He wanted to keep it forever and, looking for a place to keep it safe until he reached home, placed it temporarily in his wallet.
“Thank you, Aaron. What’s everyone doing?”
“Dad’s setting up chairs. Lisa and Norma are laying out blankets and a snack on a small folding table.” He looked up. “A number of small birds just flew over.”
“I heard geese earlier when we first arrived,” remaked Anna.
“I do so like geese,” said Aaron grinning. “You’d tell me as a child that they never leave a member of the gaggle alone if it is sick or wounded. Another would stay and then either both or just the one would catch up with the others. It’s helped over the years. A lot.”
They sat silently together for a few moments before Anna said, “Aaron, honey, I’ll always be available to you and your father.” She sighed and then added, “Your dad is very strong, but I think you are stronger. You’ll need to be there for him even more than I know you have been through the years. You are such a blessing in his life.”
“I know,” was all Aaron said but then added, “I know you’ll be here, too, but thank you for saying it,” and he leaned his head against his grandmother’s knee a moment.
“Where’s Devon?” Anna suddenly asked. Aaron was about to answer when Devon came over having heard her.
“I’m here, Mom.” He pulled a chair close to her.
“Come here, my beautiful boy.” Aaron smiled at the endearment she stilled called his dad. Devon took her outstretched hands and placed them on his face and closed his eyes. He was surprised her hands were so warm. Anna traced his hairline. “I think you need a haircut.” “I always need a haircut.” “What color is your hair now?” “Salt and pepper like Dad’s was.” “He’s so proud of you. As proud as you are of Aaron.” She continued tracing his features: eyebrows, cheekbones, nose… “You have my father’s nose, straight and narrow. I always wished I’d inherited it.” “Your nose is nice. It’s petite and delicate like your face is, like you are. It belies your strength,” Devon said as Anna chuckled.
“Can you still recite the colors?” “Of course,” Devon said with scorn as he had as a little boy.
“Red is at the base of the spine and represents our life force, our feelings of being grounded, and that we have what we need to survive.”
“You learned well,” said Anna. “I know this not only from your words but from your life, what you’ve experienced and accomplished from those experiences.” Devon rubbed his cheek against her hand and waited, wanting to hear the question. “What’s next?” Anna asked. She could feel him smiling and smiled back.
Norma was accustomed to the way Anna and her son and grandson interacted, but Lisa had never seen moments like these and was a bit overcome. After first feeling like a voyeur and being subsequently embarrassed by the tenderness they showed, she soon stopped resisting its invitation. As she began sniffling, Norma moved closer to her and patted her hand. “It’s okay,” whispered Norma. “They’re willing to share this with us. They wouldn’t have let you come otherwise.” Lisa was about to say it was on her shift but then realized Anna could have requested someone else but hadn’t.
“Orange is next,” said Devon. “It represents our creative force—our connection with and willingness to accept others and new experiences. It’s also where our sense of well-being comes from.” Anna stroked his jawline with her thumb, rubbing the scratchiness and smiling. “I remember when your beard started growing in.” She could feel Devon blush and continued, “Go on.”
“Yellow,” said Devon his voice thick. “Our sense of self-worth and the ability to be in control of our lives.” Mischievously, he added, “and to get what I want.” Anna chuckled. “Yes, you were correct even as a five-year-old.”
Before Anna could ask, Devon offered, “You know I don’t need prompting for the next one. “Greeeen,” he sang happily. “It’s still my favorite. It’s our ability to love unconditionally,” and he placed his mother’s hand on his breast. Aaron had to turn away. Devon caught this from the corner of his eye and reaching out he put an arm around him and drew him close. When Aaron laid his head on his dad’s shoulder, Devon kissed his temple. Anna reached out and smoothed the backs of both their heads. “My boys, my sweet, wonderful, strong, good men—how did I get so lucky in you both?” Silently, she thanked God yet again for them. “Always speak your truths; live your truths.” They sat quietly a few moments before Devon cleared his throat.
“As you’ve already recited blue, I’ll move on to indigo and how it helps us reach out to the Infinite and see the fabric of the Universe through our intuition and the inner wisdom of our higher selves.” When Devon stopped, Aaron added, “and to make appropriate decisions from that space.” “You are both so correct,” said Anna sitting back in her chair. “And, finally?” she asked.
“Violet,” both Devon and Aaron responded. “Our connection to Everything,” said Aaron. “Yes,” agreed Devon, “but, Mom, you know it’s not ‘finally’ because there is still the ‘feet chakra’ to consider.”
“Then tell me about it,” coaxed Anna.
“I still say it’s white,” said Devon. “For wherever we travel, here or in the Universe, and no matter in what lifetime, it supports us and brings us home.” Anna’s foot twitched but then stilled. “I think you just might be right,” she said quietly.
“That was a good recitation, the best I’ve ever heard.” She sat a moment and then shifted the mood gently to, “Shall we have our snack now and continue to enjoy the rest of this beautiful afternoon? Norma? Lisa? I’m sorry we ignored you so long. What did we bring?”
“Aaron picked up an almond cake from Brunelli’s. Besides that, we have finger sandwiches and petit fours, lemonade, iced tea and grapes.” Some time was spent finding the cake knife, which was still in the car, and doing all the things that one doesn’t think of at home but that become so important on a hillside. Much laughing and comments of “Where did the forks go? I thought I put them over here.” “I don’t know, but I found spoons.” And, “Oh, I meant to bring olives,” and “but we have pickles!” accompanied the activity.
Amidst the talking and laughter and second helpings, Anna grew quiet, letting it all flow over her. She soon tuned out the beloved voices and started listening for a different Voice, but It didn’t come. She had been so sure It would. She wasn’t scared or even worried, but she was a tiny bit disappointed. She felt ready to go and wanted to get on with it. For so much of her life she had practiced following the flow of her life and now, near the end, she was trying to make it what she thought she wanted? No, she told herself. You know the best way. Just allow it all to be. She tuned back into the conversation around her.
“Okay, Mom?” Devon asked.
“Yes, honey, never better,” she assured him.
“It’s getting kind of late and starting to get cool. Maybe we should think about going back,” he suggested.
“I suppose so,” answered Anna. All of a sudden, she gasped.
“Mom, what is it?” Devon said getting up quickly as did Aaron.
“The flowers are all colors,” said Anna as she seemed to look around.
“You can see them?” asked Aaron, incredulous.
“Not physically, but I can feel they are. They are like nothing I’ve ever experienced.” Her face glowed and she reached her hands out, spreading her fingers as in a benediction.
Everyone searched the flowered hillside, hoping they could see what Anna saw. When they heard a V of geese above them, they looked up. Aaron froze suddenly, wondering if when he looked back, his grandmother would be gone … to a better place, he had to remind himself. He forced himself to look back at her. No, she was looking up, too. Then, she turned to him. He felt that she was actually looking at him when she said, “Remember, my dearest, all birds look dark against the sky. It’s a promise to us.” She’d made the same, or similar, statements throughout his life, and he had never understood. Anna seemed to hold his gaze and asked, “Do you understand it yet?” With an almost physical jolt, Aaron realized he finally did. “Ahh,” said Anna, “I can see you do. Hold onto that, Aaron. It will help sustain you, and through you, others. Now, I think your dad is right; we should go.”
Lisa went to fetch the drivers, while Norma tended to Anna. The men gathered the picnic supplies and chairs. The assistant took Anna back to the car. Devon noticed Anna saying something to him and him nodding in response. His immediate thought was, surely he knows she’s blind. When they all got back to the car, the driver’s assistant said, “Mr. Prescott?” and waited. When Devon and Aaron both responded. The man hesitated and then said quietly, “She’s gone.”
That fast. “She’s gone.” Neither of them could take it in. The women ran around to where Anna was. Lisa looked at Devon. He shook his head. “She has a do not resuscitate; you know that.” And Lisa did and stood back.
Devon barely noticed his surroundings and put an arm around his son who responded similarly. The driver was on his phone. Devon beckoned to the assistant. “It’s okay,” Devon said. “She knew her time was soon. We all did. That’s what this was about, saying goodbye to one of her favorite places. Aaron and I want to thank you for making her last hours so very pleasant for her. We know this was an unusual situation. Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
Then he asked, “What did she say to you as you brought her back to the car?”
The young man was clearly distressed but looked at Devon and said, shaking he head, “Exactly what you just said, ‘Don’t worry; it’s okay.’”
Devon smiled. “And it is.”
At the funeral, Aaron took a small package from his pocket and walked to the casket. Unwrapping the package, he said, “I had a sculpture made for you, Grandma.” He placed the tiny, carved white flower in her hand. It glowed in the sunlight, reflecting every color imaginable. “The flower you gave me I had pressed in glass. It hangs in my bedroom window where I can see it every evening and in the mornings. It’s every color, also.”
“I wish I could tell you that the flowers here are pink and yellow and orange, but they all look white,” answered Aaron to the little boy who held his hand. They walked slowly up the hillside.
“Why, Daddy?” he asked. “Why aren’t they colors?”
“Oh, but they are colors. When flowers want to be all colors all at once, they look white.” Aaron sat down on a rock and pulled the little boy onto his lap.
Grayson looked around and then, about to ask “why” again, was distracted by the sounds of wings above him. “Birds,” he said looking up and pointing.
“Geese,” answered Aaron not even needing to look up to know. He smiled as he held his son close and rubbed his cheek in the little boy’s hair. He then started introducing him to some of the wonders that abound in the world.