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A Rose for Aunt Kate

Saying “I love you” was hard, so I said a prayer instead.

Yellow rose for dying aunt
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I love you. Just three simple words.

So why couldn’t I say them to my aunt Kate, a woman who had meant so much to me through the years?

I walked into my apartment and collapsed on the couch. I had taken off from work that morning and had hopped on a bus to visit my aunt at the nursing home.

I’d stood by her bed, trying to tell her how much I loved her. But the woman I saw before me—frail, pale, with glazed eyes, only patches of stubble where short sandy blonde hair had once been—scared me silent.

I knew that Aunt Kate didn’t have much time left. But that made it so much harder. Saying “I love you” felt like saying goodbye. And I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Just a few months earlier, Aunt Kate and I had hiked at Warren Dunes State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, a beautiful trail we had hiked so many times before, when my brother, Chris, and I were just kids and came to visit her in the summertime.

Aunt Kate had always led the way on those outings, but this time she had to turn back. I knew that the cancer was finally taking its toll. Still, to me, Aunt Kate was invincible. She was fearless and independent. The great outdoors was her playground.

She never married and never had children, so she treated Chris and me like her very own. She taught us to hike and swim. We rode horses and camped out in the woods. It was Aunt Kate who made a nature lover out of a city girl like me.

Then there was our garden. There was no room to plant anything where I lived, so Aunt Kate let me grow whatever I wanted at her house. “Garden? More like a jungle,” my dad had said when he saw it.

My favorites were the yellow roses that Aunt Kate and I planted. Even after a harsh Michigan winter, they grew back year after year.

I lay back against the couch and prayed, Lord, help me let her know how much I love her, before it’s too late.

That garden we planted popped into my mind. Flowers. That’s what I could give Aunt Kate. Yellow roses, like the ones we had grown together all those years ago.

In the morning I went out to the florist and chose a beautiful bouquet. On the card I wrote the words I had such trouble saying aloud. The next day the nurse called to tell me that my aunt had received my gift.

Good, I thought. On my next visit, I’ll be able to say it in person.

But the following day I got another call. One I hadn’t wanted to receive. Aunt Kate had passed away.

I was devastated.

The funeral was hard to get through, but not as difficult as visiting the nursing home one last time to collect my aunt’s things.

“She requested that you care for her flowers,” the nurse told me, handing me the roses, my card still taped to the vase.

Silently I took them from her.

When I got back home, I set the flowers by the window and removed the card. Through tear-blurred eyes, I read the words I had written: “I love you.” Did she know, Lord, how much I loved her? Could she even read the card? I wondered.

I wiped my eyes and the card came into focus. There were some light gray marks near the bottom.

I looked more closely at the card. Below “I Love You,” in shaky pencil, just dark enough for me to make out, my aunt Kate had written “U 2.”

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