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By Edward A. Rinderle
Posted: 08/21/2023

She loved gardenias.  I discovered this bit of information early in our courtship.  Fortunately, I happened to have a gardenia shrub near the back door of my home.

Every once in a while, I would pick a particularly fragrant gardenia blossom, put it in a small bowl of water, and drive to work with it safely nestled in my cup holder.  Jean's office was in the building next to mine, so I would trot over to her office door, excited about my gift.  I knew she would love my gesture.  I was never disappointed.  

We married a few months later.  I sold my home and moved into hers.  Perhaps the biggest loss resulting from my move was the loss of the gardenia shrub.  No problem, I had thought.  We'd simply plant a new one.  

We did, but getting the new shrub to thrive proved to be a daunting task.  We tried, consulted the experts, and tried again.  Eventually, to our dismay, we had to give up.    

A few days later, on a walk around the neighborhood, we spotted a shrub covered with radiant white blossoms.  We picked up our pace and indulged ourselves in that unmistakable fragrance.  From that day on, whenever a walk took us near that home, we'd stop to enjoy those those beautiful gardenias.  

Years went by, until one day we noticed that the neighbor's gardenia shrub had begun to show some disturbing signs.  A branch would produce buds, all right, but they'd turn brown and fall to the ground before they could bloom.  Then that branch stopped producing buds at all.  Then the leaves dried out and fell, leaving only a crooked stick behind.  Soon another branch suffered the same fate.  Then another.  I know the owner was trying to save that shrub.  We saw signs of care, including feeding and pruning.  

Coincidentally, as that gardenia shrub began to fade, so did my beloved Jean.  Health issues began to descend upon her in seemingly rapid succession.  We consulted several doctors and tried several treatments, always with hope for improvement.   

But Jean's illnesses just got worse.  Before long, she could no longer enjoy our walks.  Now and then I took a walk alone, stopping at the gardenia shrub, seeking a blossom that would share its fragrance.  Even if I found one, without Jean, the experience was bittersweet.  

Then one day I discovered, much to my dismay, just empty space where the gardenia shrub once lived.   Apparently our neighbor felt he had done all he could do.

A few weeks later, my dear Jean also passed away.  I miss her terribly.  But sometime in that twilight between wakefulness and sleep, I see a small bowl of water, a gardenia floating in it, and a radiant smile looking down as a cute little nose sniffed its perfume.  

That scene fills me with gratitude for all the years I was able to spend with my dearest Jean, my heart's gardenia.  

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