My Orchid

Written by Braiden Rex-Johnson on March 22, 2012

I keep a fresh orchid in plain view in my office, strategically positioned on a granite wing wall in front of my computer, as a calming influence and also for inspiration as I think and write.

It’s a cheapie from Trader Joe’s that usually costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.99 to $10.99. I figure these orchids last several months. So, compared to cut flowers, especially during the winter months when they are so expensive, the orchids are actually very cost-effective alternative since they last a lot longer.

This week, as invariably happens, my current orchid–a purple beauty–began to drop its blossoms. It happens slowly and stealthily at first, one blossom here, another one there.

Finding a withered blossom always causes me a twinge of pain.

And once the orchid goes into free fall during its death march, I might find two or three blossoms in the course of the day. They turn up on the floor, on the blood-red granite slab, or the Asian-inspired wooden pedestal upon which my orchid sits.

The other day, about the same time as I noticed my orchid was down to one surviving blossom, I received an e-mail from my 89-year-old father.

My father has been battling bladder cancer for over a year. Lately it’s been an unsettling pattern of catheter in, catheter out; catheter in, catheter out.

Now, it seems, my father’s whole world revolves around whether or not he can urinate.

As I stared at my orchid stubbornly clinging to life with one single blossom dangling tenuously, it occurred to me that, in so many ways, my father’s aging process parallels that of one of my orchids.

Over the years, his body has weakened, his glory days long gone.

First the eyes began to go when he went through a series of contact lenses and glasses and finally could no longer see well enough to operate on the inner ear.

Much later came the hearing aids, a particularly difficult solution for him to stomach since he was once a renowned ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Then his legs began acting up with restless-leg syndrome and edema. He went through went several degrees of walkers, ultimately ending up with a very expensive model he fondly referred to as “the Bentley.” His caregivers even ordered him one of those motorized scooters so widely advertised on television, but he never did learn how to maneuver it very well, so it sat mostly unused in the hallway.

And now the final indignity. . .having to rely on a bag for something as elemental and basic as peeing.

After the latest catheter in/catheter out episode, I remarked at how brave Dad was to have faced so much medical adversity.

He responded with a thought-provoking quote from a Civil-War prisoner that says, “Live in hope if I die in despair.”

Ultimately, with every one of my orchids, the last blossom falls to earth. And I am left with only a slender green stalk rising toward the sky, a few bright-green leaves at the plant’s base, and memories of a brilliant bunch of blossoms that once was.

When it’s my father’s time, I will treasure my memories of him much like I remember the beautiful blossoms on my orchids—memories of a life well lived.