Smells can have a powerful affect on our emotions, one whiff of a scent from our past and we are flooded with memories.
For me it the smell of lilies. For most people lilies have a pleasant aroma, but one trace of that smell and I am instantly transported to my living room in Michigan when it was filled with flower arrangements from my husbands funeral. There I stood in my black dress and high heels, surrounded by a jungle of plants and trays of food. My family had just left, and it was starting to set in that we were a family of 3 now, just me and my two preschoolers. We were completely alone, devastatingly so. I remember looking at my small girls and thinking, “Now what?”
It was the loneliest moment of my life.
Twenty-one years later and the smell of lilies makes me nauseous. I can’t stand it.
Boarding the plane that was to take us from Denver to Spain last week after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, it occurred to me that my father-in-law was experiencing a new level of loneliness that is unique to the loss of a spouse. Especially after losing a beautiful wife that had shared every second of his life for over 58 years.
I know he has his memories, picture albums and home videos. I know he is firm in his faith and is thankful for the time they had, thankful her suffering is over, and thankful that they will spend eternity together, healed, whole and complete. None of those truths however can erase the new reality that faces him. He is going to miss her.
When he opens her closet the scent of her will wash over him and fill his senses.
She smelled like rose petals and… home.
Everything in him will want to stay in that moment, but fear of letting her scent out will force him to close the doors before he is ready to say good-bye. It’s not as simple as spraying her perfume on her old clothes, there is more to the scent of a woman than the mist she sprays on her blouse. Her scent was all that encompassed her essence, her hair, her skin, and her spirit.
Everyday for almost six decades she was there, in the kitchen cooking, in her chair reading, and on her knees praying. Every night he could hear her next to him breathing, he could reach out and touch her face, her skin. Now, all that is left in that bed is the faintest smell of her on the sheets.
He dreads washing them.
He can’t remember life before the first time he saw her long blonde ponytail, it was attached to the pretty little thing he had ever seen, sitting in a booth at the diner. He decided right then and there that he would win her heart.
He can’t remember a time when he didn’t love her. He does not know where she began and he ended.
They were simply ONE, one heart, one soul, one body. Through year after year of struggle and beauty, pain and love, they had morphed into one person.
He is exhausted, after years of caring for her every need as her body weakened, but he would do it all again. Suddenly, his hands are more idle, and his hours slightly more empty, and her scent is beginning to fade.
Still, she is everywhere, her handwriting is all over the notes she kept on the fridge, her nail polish in a box on the table, her lotions in the bathroom. He is not in any hurry to remove those things.
Now, in his bedroom is a small box that contains her ashes by his side of the bed. All around their room are pictures of her beautiful face, some when she was very young and one taken right before she left this earth, her hands up above her head, worshiping God and preparing to enter His presence at an even deeper level.
The scent of this woman will eventually fade, but the impact of her life will continue in the legacy she left behind. We will never forget the way she loved, the way she believed and the faith that she held onto until her last breath.
And that is the most beautiful fragrance of all.
Next Thursday: The Upside of Pain