The Story of the Birthday Rose

   by Roger Nash

As is often the case with wonderful stories, the story of the birthday rose begins and ends with an act of caring love but contains terrible tragedy along the way.

The story begins on Saturday, May 8, 1999, the day before Mother's Day. Our seventeen-year-old son, Justin, was at Wal-Mart trying to pick out a present for his mom. Our thirteen year-old, Bryan, had already had his gift purchased and wrapped. Justin remembered mom saying that she wanted to get some rosebushes for the backyard, so he thought that a live plant might be something that she would be able to enjoy for many years to come. He picked out a unique, old-fashioned rosebush called "First Light." He liked it because it was different from most modern roses, having only five petite petals per bloom. On the way to the checkout, he saw a friend from church and asked her if she thought that his mom would like the rosebush for Mother's Day. When she told him that she thought it was the perfect gift, he felt that he had made the right choice.

Tami's Mother's Day was very pleasant. As was our custom, Justin, Bryan and I made lunch for her after church. I fixed the spaghetti and sauce, Justin "created" the salad, and Bryan made the garlic bread. After lunch we all gave her our presents. The rosebush was temporarily placed out on the deck. Tami wanted to pick just the right place for it, so some research was needed before she planted it.

The boys had just finished another school year and were beginning to plan their summer. Justin had been invited to go to Gatlinburg with his friend Josh Beddingfield. Josh lived with his aunt, Connie Beddingfield, and both attended church with us. Connie had planned the trip to celebrate the end of school for Josh. Josh asked if Justin could go with them. Connie agreed and invited a close friend, Jeannine Crawford to go with her. Although in her seventies, Jeannine could always be counted on to be the "life of the party" and Connie knew that Jeannine would help make the trip a fun adventure for the two teenage boys.

Justin spent the next several days looking forward to the trip. Tami wanted Justin to help her plant the rosebush before he left, but the exact spot had not been decided on yet, so they agreed to wait until after the Gatlinburg trip to plant it.

On Monday, Connie stopped to pick up Jeannine and then came over to our house. Tami asked for a phone number of where they would be staying and Jeannine reluctantly gave it to her, teasingly telling her that they did not want any phone calls while on their vacation.
They had a great time visiting Dollywood and seeing all the sights around Gattlinburg. Everyone was worn out and ready to go home (except Jeannine, of course) as they started on their return trip.

It was the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and we had planned to leave Friday morning to take our boys on a short trip. I was in the garage when I heard the doorbell ring. It was about 8:30 P.M. and I heard Tami call out that Justin must be home a little early. I next heard Tami calling me to the front door. On our front porch stood two deputies. They asked if they could come in. Once they were inside they asked us to sit down.

There are moments in a person's life that are so indelibly etched into memory that the very recollection of the event causes the same emotions and feelings that were present at the time to resurface. The moment a parent is told that their child is dead is such a moment. I not only remember the pain; I feel the same emptiness and agony each time I recall that night.

They could not tell us much except that there had been a wreck and that Justin had been killed. Tami kept telling them that there had to be a mistake, but they kept responding that there was no mistake. They were trying to be very kind, but there is no way to deliver such news gently. There is nothing that you can say to prepare someone for that type of news. The visit was very short; I asked them to leave as soon as I could see that they had no other information to give us. I did not mean to be rude, but I could not bear to have any strangers in my home as the weight of what they had just told us sank in. A short time later I called friends from church and it was not long before we had a house full of loving people sharing our grief.

We soon learned that Connie, Josh, and Jeannine had also been killed. We learned that they were on the interstate just south of Knoxville when, due to road construction, they came to a stop behind a flat-bed truck loaded with steel. As they were waiting for the traffic to move, another truck hit them from behind. The Dodge mini-van was crushed between the two trucks to less than a third of its original size.

The next few days were a blur. We were surrounded by friends and family and were helped with every detail of the arrangements of the funeral and the other things that had to be done. We were, and continue to be, humbled by the many acts of kindness that were directed towards us. I believe that God uses many different ways to comfort His children. Sometimes He sends people to be his helping hands on this earth; the urge that someone feels to make that encouraging phone call at just the right time is no coincidence. Sometimes God may open your eyes to see His hand in nature in ways that you would not have noticed before. Our challenge is to be willing to give God the credit for the comforting things that happen and not be tempted to explain them away as a coincidence.

The rosebush that Justin gave to Tami for Mother's Day has come to be a symbol of God's care for my family. As you can imagine the rosebush became even more important to Tami after Justin's death. She wanted to do everything she could to insure that it survived. We carefully planted it in a small corner garden that could be seen from our living room window.

As the days and weeks passed, the rosebush started showing signs of new life. A few green sprouts emerged and grew into branches with lush green leaves. In a way, it was symbolic of our life after Justin's death. The days were still almost unbearable, but there were signs of growth and healing. We knew that life would continue to be hard, but we were convinced that God had a purpose for our loss and were determined to learn what it was. We pray every day for God to comfort us and show us that He is with us.

During the first week of August 1999, we noticed a single small bud forming on the rosebush. Tami was very excited because she had been hoping that by some chance Justin's rosebush would have roses on it for her birthday, which was on Sunday, August the 8th. But time was running out and we did not see any way that a rose could form in the few days that remained till her birthday. She looked at that little bud everyday hoping for some miraculous growth, but by Saturday night there was still only the one very tiny rosebud.

The first thing that Tami did on Sunday morning was go outside to the garden and check on Justin's rose. As soon as she came back into the house I could tell that something wonderful had happened. With tears rolling down her checks, she told me that she had gotten a present from Justin. She took me by the hand and led me outside to show me the beautiful small pink rose that had opened on the rosebush. We just held each other as we felt the comfort of Justin's love sweep over us.

It seems like everywhere Tami looks, pink roses show up to comfort her. Just a few weeks ago, while in the mall, she passed a seating area where Justin would meet her after shopping. She just had to look, hoping that he would be waiting there for her. Fighting back the tears, because she knew of course that he would never be there again, her eyes were drawn to a display that featured an exquisite pink crystal rose. She walked over and saw that the rose was mounted on a base that had an inscription on it. Picking up the rose, she read the message. It said, "I'll love you always, Mom." She quietly said, "Thanks Justin, I'll love you always too."