Love Among The Flowers

Juanita and Carlos had married young; she was eighteen and he had just turned nineteen. They lived on a very limited income those first few years until Carlos secured a job as a full-time gardener for several families in Chapala. From his early years, he had loved flowers, loved working with the soil of his home country, and with a greener than green thumb he could make even the most reluctant flower bloom. Weeds didn’t stand a chance, and he had an innate wisdom about exactly which flowers complemented their neighbors. It had not taken long for word-of-mouth to spread about his talent, his dedication, his strong love of plants and flowers, and Carlos was soon busy six days a week.

Meanwhile, Juanita, much quieter than her exuberant husband, had taken several courses in health care in preparation for someday obtaining a nursing degree. She had been fortunate to obtain a position as a full-time caregiver with a family who needed help with Frank, their aging father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. Juanita loved the satisfaction of working with Frank six days a week, but she looked forward to Sundays spent with Carlos, when they would go to an early mass at the local iglesia. There they would give thanks for all they had, then head for a leisurely breakfast at one of the restaurants, followed by a stroll along the Malecon, holding hands and enjoying each other’s company, the sunshine, the lake, and of course, the flowers.

Carlos and Juanita began to save money – their dream was to one day buy a small casita with enough yard where Carlos could slowly begin to create their own beautiful garden. It would take time to realize their dreams, but they worked hard, loved their work, and each other. They both wanted children, but had agreed, much to their mothers’ dismay, to wait until they had their own home. The future was bright for these young people.

As the years passed, Carlos continued to care for other people’s gardens and Juanita continued to care for Frank, and after he passed, others with dementia, as her skill and dedication to the work of caregiving became known in the small community. Work, church, lunches by the water, this was their life, along with their shared dream of a home, and of course, children. They had decided they wanted four children, two hijos and two hijas.

Finally, when they were twenty-seven and twenty-eight, they had saved enough money to see their dream come to fruition, purchasing a small casita that had room for gardens full of flowers, plants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and birds of all kinds. Carlos even dreamed of one day opening his own Vivero, but that would take more time and more money.

One day, about a year after they’d bought their casita, Carlos came home from work earlier than usual. He had been coughing and complaining of chest pains for several weeks, but kept saying “Querida, esta bien, it’s only a cough and a pulled muscle,” but he finally listened to Juanita’s pleas to see their doctor. Dr. Garcia did some preliminary tests, then referred Carlos to a pulmonary doctor in Guadalajara.

After a round of tests, X-rays, and blood work, their worst fears were realized as Dr. Hernandez sat with them and shared devastating news. Carlos, a healthy young man who had never smoked, had a stage IV aggressive case of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), similar to many longtime smokers. The prognosis was not good. Stunned, they drove home in silence, still trying to absorb the news that would turn their world upside down. Within three months, Carlos was gone.

That was six months ago, not nearly enough time for Juanita to cry or to grieve for the end of their life together and the future they would now never have. Today, as she does many days after work, Juanita spends time in the garden of the casita, a garden lovingly designed and planted by Carlos, a garden full of flowers, with a bench and a small fountain. A peaceful place in which to heal and perhaps even begin to move on, poco a poco.

Carlos’s favorite flower, a Chocolate Cosmos, draws her closer. Inhaling the chocolaty-vanilla fragrance, she closes her eyes and takes some comfort in knowing that because of this garden, Carlos is still with her – and with their unborn child.

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D’Vorah Kelley
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