I stood amongst the other single women. The bride stood with her back toward us, and we all prepared ourselves as she gracefully tossed the bouquet over her head. My eyes followed the gorgeous pink and white flowers as they sailed across the room, falling straight toward me. The other women shoved each other and swiped at the air. But the bouquet dropped perfectly into my hands, like it had been drawn to me by some unexplainable force. The bride turned around and saw that it was me, her niece, who had caught the bouquet. She beamed at me with her enchanting smile, and little nine-year-old me lit up with excitement.
Five years later, my world shattered into a billion pieces. It was Sunday afternoon, and my parents and I were jamming along to our favorite radio station as we travelled home from our traditional Sunday trip to the beach. But that day, one ignorant, reckless driver signed the death sentence of my mother and father. By some spectacular miracle, I survived the crash. But I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t want to live a life without my parents in it.
It was my aunt who rescued me from the hospital on that day. She promised me that everything would be okay, that she and my uncle would look after me. But things were not okay. How could things ever be okay again?
My aunt took me to her home, where I would be living from now on. The air was cold and unfamiliar. This wasn’t home. I sat down on the edge of the couch, the absence of my parents sinking its claws into my reality. My aunt disappeared for a few moments, then returned with her hands hidden behind her back. She settled onto the couch next to me.
“Remember this?” She revealed the bouquet that I had caught at her wedding five years ago, its glittery white and rose gold colors sparkling as the light bounced off the artificial petals.
“You forgot this on one of the tables when you left my wedding. But I saved it for you.”
She offered me that same, welcoming smile that I remembered from her wedding day. She extended the bouquet toward me, and I grasped it with trembling fingers.
“We’re going to get through this,” she promised me as a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Grief bitterly occupied our home for the next few weeks, as my aunt, uncle and I learned to live each day without my parents, their siblings. But eventually, the days got easier. I found comfort in my new guardians, and for the first time since my parents’ death I felt the solace of a loving home again.
We began new family traditions, like game nights and camping trips. But the best tradition was the super extra, over-the-top birthday parties they would throw for me. At fifteen years old, they turned the entire house into a carnival. Fun little games, crazy circus music, and so much cotton candy that my dentist would have had a heart attack watching me eat it. At sixteen, they gave me a “Night in Hollywood” experience with extravagant decorations, paparazzi snapping photos, and a limousine that escorted me to my driver’s test! Like I said, they were extra. On my seventeenth birthday, they recreated a classic karaoke club with a dramatically oversized disco ball, an assortment of finger foods, and some banging 80s songs that we destroyed with our happily tone-deaf voices.
But just a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday, things changed. My aunt began losing weight drastically. She complained of a severe pain in her abdomen but refused to go to the doctor.
“I’m fine,” she’d always say, but I could see the pain in her eyes.
One day, my uncle, aunt and I were cooking dinner together when my aunt collapsed to her knees. The pain in her stomach had become unbearable. We immediately rushed her to the hospital and waited anxiously while the doctors ran several tests. An agonizing hour passed before the doctor approached us with an expression that said it all. “She has stage four pancreatic cancer; it’s already spread to several other organs.” My uncle wrapped his arms around me, and I broke down into hysterical cries. This can’t be happening. I can’t lose her, too.
My aunt underwent a few chemotherapy sessions to slow the spreading of the cancer and prolong her survival. But as her health deteriorated, chemo became futile, and we switched to palliative care to relieve her pain.
I felt so useless, and I hated myself for it. I couldn’t do anything to save my aunt, I could only watch as death wrapped its rotten hand around her life.
September came around, which meant my aunt’s birthday was just a few days away. Aware that this was her last birthday that I’d get to spend with her, I decided it was only right that I throw her an extravagant celebration just like she would always do for my birthdays. I racked my brain for the best theme, and I finally decided on recreating the most special day that I could think of, her wedding day. I told my uncle about the idea, and he was completely on board with it.
When the day finally arrived, my uncle and I spent hours ornamenting our home with the exact same decorations from their wedding. Rose gold streamers, sparkling white tablecloths, and beautiful strings of lights brought the room to life. But there was one final touch I needed to add. At the center of our dining room table, I displayed the prized bouquet that I had caught nine years ago. As I arranged it into the perfect centerpiece, I noticed a single flower was missing from the bouquet, leaving just the stem of it visible. I hid the lonely stem amidst the rest of the flowers, and with that the decorations were finished.
As my uncle escorted my aunt out of the bedroom, the bright string lights lit up her body. And for the first time, I saw just how drastically the cancer distorted her appearance. Her skin was yellowing from the poison that ate away at her organs. Her head was bare from the chemo, with just a few straggling hairs barely clinging to her scalp. Her eyes sank into her face, and she appeared to have aged decades in just a few weeks. But amidst it all, she still had that sensational smile that magnified the room as she glanced around at the familiar decorations.
“You guys are so wonderful,” she said weakly. I gently grabbed her hand and led her to the dining room table, where the three of us shared our last meal together as a family.
My aunt passed away the next morning. I spent the day hidden away in my room, passing in and out of uncontrollable sobbing episodes until my tear ducts ran dry. That evening, there was a knock on my bedroom door. My uncle cautiously opened the door and peeked in.
“Can I come in?” I nodded. My uncle took a seat on the edge of my bed. His eyes were just as swollen and red as mine.
“Your aunt, she wanted me to give this to you.” He opened his hand to reveal a single rose-colored flower, and I immediately recognized it.
“She took it off that bouquet you caught at her wedding when you were just nine years old. She told me she felt a strange connection to it or something. Well, I think her exact words were unexplainable force, but I’m not really sure what she meant by it. Anyways, her final request was to make sure that I give it to you.” He extended his hand toward me. Slowly, I reached for the flower. I scooped it from my uncle’s palm, and the thin, delicate material danced between my fingertips. As I squeezed the flower, a warmth instantly spread throughout my entire body. My aunt’s soothing voice echoed in my ears.
“We’re going to get through this.” A single tear rolled down my cheek.