The Christmas Cactus was a plant I knew very little about until I looked it up a few years ago and now I know just enough about it that it’s best served staying exactly where it is, which is in the main hallway of my In-Law’s house, being properly tended by my Mother-in-Law, who manages to keep houseplants alive. A feat that seems beyond my scope, except for two variegated pathos plants my husband and I received as cuttings from the one my Godmother Marie had that was easily fifteen years old when she lopped some pieces off and handed them to me the day we moved out of her house and into our own. I pull that thing back from the brink of death several times a year and am ever so thankful its strength to survive outweighs my neglectful ministrations.
This one Christmas Cactus makes me smile every time there's a new flower bud visible. Which is also why I leave it in the care of my mother-in-law as I really don’t want to be the cause of its demise.
This plant was my mom’s. She received a cutting of it from my sister and nurtured it for several years. When my parents moved into a smaller apartment she decided not to take her plants due to space constraints and left them outside their old house for the trash men to pick them up.
About two weeks after my parents were fully moved into their new place I had to go by the old one to make certain it was all cleared out and closed up tight. When I walked through the empty house and out the back door there were all her plants, withered and wilted in big colorful pots on elegant metal stands baking under the summer sun. They looked so pathetic, so wretchedly sad and lonely that I just couldn’t leave them there. Sighing, I stuffed them into the back of my car and drove away, wondering if I was just prolonging the inevitable.
On a stroke of pure genius, I brought them to my In-Law’s house because they have this great sunroom with windows on all sides and I figured the plants had a better chance at survival under my Mother-in-law’s nurturing than with me. She cut back and repotted a few of the plants more egregiously damaged after their stint outside in the harsh summer heat and propped up the Christmas Cactus hoping it would survive the rest of the week, as it looked like it was a goner, all shriveled and browned and losing stems.
The other plants lived and thrived and grew. The Christmas Cactus managed to limp along, recovering slowly and produced a couple of sickly looking flowers that fall but didn’t bloom in full.
That January my mother became very ill after back surgery and remained hospitalized for six months before succumbing to a septic infection from MRSA. Within two months of her death my father was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and fought for two and a half years before the cancer took its toll. He died during the month of December after missing his wife every day of his struggle.
During this time, the Christmas Cactus held on but didn’t show a single flower bud, not once.
Several days after my father passed away, buds began to appear on every end leaf and by Christmas this plant was in full bloom with vibrant plump fuscia colored flowers weighing the stems down to spill over the sides.
My mother-in-law was incredulous at the sudden change in its appearance. As we sat down that Christmas Eve, sadness and grief weighing my heart down, she pointed out the mass of glossy pink flowers and shining green leaves that seemed to glow from the Christmas tree lights.“You see that?” she asked me, as I tried to smile at the festivities around me “those flowers were waiting for your parents to be together again and you should look at that and know in your heart that your Mom and Dad are with each other and happy again, just like they always wanted to be. That plant hasn’t bloomed since your Mom died and your Dad so sad without her. Look at how full and beautiful those flowers are and know that they are smiling together and love you.”
This cactus has bloomed every season since, sometimes more than twice a year, heavy with flowers. And every time I see this plant I think about what my mother-in-law said and smile, because in my heart, where it counts, I know she’s right.
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