Stephanie Johnson: Orchid represents family

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My sister Michelle waited until the day after my wedding to give me the news that our father's recurrent melanoma had spread and he had one to two weeks, possibly a month, to live. It would've meant so much for Mom and Dad to have been at the wedding, but I knew he was ill. I was grateful that I got to spend the last two weeks of Dad's life by his bedside.

When I returned back to work, my coworkers gave me an orchid plant and a nice sympathy card. The bright white blooms cheered me as the days passed and my bad dreams after Dad's death lessened. After the last blossom fell, I took the plant home and placed it in a sunny window in my office, looking forward to when it would bloom again and remind me of Dad.

Six months passed and no blooms graced the sturdy plant. Dad's one-year anniversary of his death came and went. Still nothing. The leaves thrived, yet produced no flowers. I ran into a woman who worked for a florist and she told me, "Orchids are hard to get to bloom again; I threw mine out." Her bad news depressed me.

Several times after that, I was tempted to throw my orchid out. I kept it, hopeful a growth sprouting out of the pot would be a flower stem and not a twisted root. My husband suggested I transplant it into a bigger pot, but the "plant lady" at my former office (I had since resigned) said the current pot was fine. "Just be sure to water it regularly, let it drain well, and use orchid fertilizer." I wasn't using fertilizer!

My lipstick plant bloomed around Thanksgiving and just dropped its last flower two weeks ago, so I was happy for those to tide me over, especially since it was a wedding gift from the plant lady. One day, I noticed a new growth on my orchid, but this time it wasn't white like the roots. Weeks passed, and it vaguely resembled an asparagus plant. Could it be?

Slowly the stem grew, and sure enough, seven buds formed, just like the number of people in my family! "Pop Pop," as Dad's grandkids called him, bloomed, then "Mee Maw," then Michelle and Craig. I was so excited the orchid bloomed that I snapped pictures and posted them to my Facebook page with a brief explanation. A friend from my childhood, John D., had this to share:

So here's the story of "The Clivia That Refused to Bloom":

When my mom died in 1989, my family received the requisite flowers, plants and such. One of these included a Clivia plant, also called a Kafir Lily, which has really nice, long, dark green, shiny, strap-like leaves. I think it may have been in bloom when we took it home from the funeral home. My dad sold the family home in the summer of 1996 and I was living in Pennsylvania by that time. I took that plant and a few others along to of liven up the apartment where my wife Mary and I were living. It never bloomed again. I took great care of it, too.

We moved to Allentown in 1999 and got a nice loft apartment with a sunny corner in the living room. I put all of our plants there and kept taking care of them as I always had. In June of 2001, my dad remarried in Charleston, SC. Dad and Lee got married the Thursday of that week and everyone returned to their respective homes on Saturday.

Mary and I got to our apartment at about 1 a.m. on Sunday and started bringing everything upstairs to our bedroom. We didn't even notice the Clivia until Mary and I went downstairs for more stuff. It had bloomed that week in the nicest cluster of peach/pink/orange flowers! I counted each individual blossom and got a total of 12. I started counting on my fingers and figured one for each of us: mom, dad, Maura, Traci, Cara, me, Mike, our spouses (Scott, Craig and Mary) and my two nieces, Lindsay and Kelsey. We both got such goose bumps from it! I still do whenever I think about it.

That flower lasted about two more weeks and it has never bloomed since!

I think that was my mom's way of telling me that she's okay ... and that we all need to be happy for Dad that he had Lee now. I also think it means she was telling me that she is always with me and that I shouldn't mourn her so much...which I did. I had a VERY hard time with her death and sometimes still do. (And it'll be 20 years in August!) However, after that happened, I do find it easier to cope with, having the knowledge that she's with God and is on my side.

I'm going to say a special prayer for my mom and your dad tonight. I think of all my departed friends and relatives often. Knowing they're in "our corner" helps me get through rough times. Because the Lord truly does work in mysterious ways ... we may not understand them, but He knows what He's doing.

As I stare at my beautiful orchid, the one I almost threw out because it wouldn't bloom again, I am so thankful I kept it. Just like John's Clivia plant was a "sign" from his mom that she was okay, my orchid reminds me of Dad, and deep in my heart, I know he's okay, too.

What I think is the MOST amazing is that the fifth bloom, the one that symbolizes "me" in the family/orchid order, bloomed on my birthday!

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