People die and that sucks, especially when those people are ones in your orbit that you loved, or liked, or cherished, or relied upon.
Rose was Donna’s very first babysitter. When baby Donna was thirteen weeks old, I got dressed all business like for the first time since her birth. I loaded her up in her car seat, had a little bag full of breast milk, and my electric pump slung on my shoulders. Donna was off for an adventure and so was I. For the first time, she would be in the care of another and for the first time I would walk into the office as a working mother. I think it was a hard day for both of us, but Rose assured me all would be fine. And it was.
Three days a week for the next 17 months we had the same routine. Rose cared for Donna and some other little ones in her home. She had been doing home child care for much of her life, starting when her own little ones were babies. When Donna came to her, Rose was in her late sixties.
She ran a tight ship, Rose, and maintained order and structure amidst the chaos a room full of babies and toddlers can create. Her husband, Poppy, helped out since he was retired. Where Rose was order and structure, Poppy was a warm lap and loving arms. Where Rose was feeding and diapering, Poppy was walking to the park down the street. They were such a great team, Rose and Poppy, each one complementing the other so perfectly well. And, really, children and babies need both a little Rose and Poppy in their lives — a little structure and a little cuddle and warmth, each so important in their own way.
When the message came that Rose had died, I felt terribly. I felt guilty. I felt sad. Did I ever properly express the gratitude I felt to Rose for helping us raise Donna? Probably not. Rose was not one to easily get warm and fuzzy with. Again, she was business. Kind business, gentle business when gentle was called for, but business still. And, full disclosure, I to this day feel some responsibility, as Donna’s mother, that she was taken from those who loved her. Rose loved Donna, I have no doubt of that. Sometimes it can be hard to face the people that most loved Donna, the guilt overwhelms, irrational as it is.
After Donna’s death five years ago, our visits with Rose and Poppy became less and less frequent. Occasionally, a grandparent might ask after Rose and Poppy. I would sheepishly admit that I hadn’t kept up with them, that we had fallen out of touch. I meant to. I always meant to.
Rose’s service was on a Thursday. I would go and bring the baby. People talk about “paying respects,” and Lord, did I wish to pay my respects to Rose, to Poppy, to all who loved her. Rose mattered to me, to my family, to my only and beloved and now deceased daughter. I would get over my bad self, swallow my guilt, and pay my respects. I am so grateful I did. I only wish I had done it sooner.
It turns out that the service for Rose was held at a church that I drove past frequently. Once, I pulled over to photograph the message from the sign near the front door — “RELAX. GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE.” That spoke to me despite not being religious or a church goer. The message of not being the one in control of life is one I fully embrace. We can cling to the illusion of control, but it is nothing more than an illusion. As a Cancer Mom, I get that.
I never knew the church was Rose and Poppy’s church, their religious home. The fact that it was lent a greater sense of significance to being there. I felt closer to both them and Donna. The baby and I walked in, me a little timidly, wondering if I truly belonged there. The church lobby was full and getting crowded. I made a move with the stroller to enter the church when a woman dressed head to toe in white, including tights and gloves and shoes, like a retro nurse, took my arm and explained this time was private time for family to be with Rose. Oops. “Of course,” I said, grateful for the guidance.
Baby and I slinked back to a corner, waiting our turn. About twenty minutes later the doors opened wide and all gathered were allowed in. The church filled. One by one, people filed past Rose in her coffin. Family and friends greeted one another. There was a joy in the air, a sense of reunion, old friends and family seeing one another after too much time had passed. Funerals bring people together, just as years ago, when we were younger, weddings and babies did. It is the cycle of life.
The service was rich and wonderful. Those who memorialized Rose did her justice. She was honored for her cooking, her child rearing, her hosting, her wry humor, her sharp instincts, her Christian life. I felt closer to Rose and Poppy than I had in years. The music soared, the humor and tributes flowed, a life was properly honored.
And as I watched all of this unfold, between wrangling a busy baby and retrieving fallen Cheerios from the red carpet beneath me, I couldn’t help but think of that other aspect of Rose’s life — her work of helping to raise other people’s children. As I looked out on the crowd, there was only one other family I recognized, a girl who had “graduated” from Rose’s care before Donna was even born, but who, like us, would visit with Rose and Poppy on Halloween during trick-or-treating. This girl was grown now, a tween already, inches away from being a teen. She made me think of all the other children that had passed through Rose and Poppy’s home through the years, getting kisses (“sugar” as Rose called them) and hugs (“cush” as Rose called them) and diaper changes and warm milk.
I sat there and imagined an army of forty years of babies now grown, babies that Rose had a hand in caring for while their parents went off to work. Where were they now? What were they doing? Rose retired not long after Donna left her care. Her graduates, though, must range in age from 6 or 7 all the way up to 40 years old. Goodness! What an amazing legacy to leave, what sacred work Rose did in her life.
I am grateful to have known Rose and Poppy. I worry about Poppy, now without his Rose. She took care of him just like she took care of so many others. When I worked with older adults and going to memorial services was part of my stock in trade, one thing the old Presbyterians always said was, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Well done, Rose. Thank you for all the love and care you provided Donna and my family. You will be so very missed by so very many.