It’s a special thing being the local florist. I know when it’s your birthday, I am there before your wedding, and I even know when you are fighting with your spouse. I know when someone has a crush, I know when you are in the hospital or just not feeling well. I also know when you are going through the saddest time in your life. Flowers bring us closer together and offer a wordless expression of empathy. They are strong when we are not and they help carry us through.

My favorite mornings are when I get to my flower shop at 9 a.m. I love being there alone. I walk around and say good morning to the tulips and sweet peas in the cooler and the plants scattered around the greenhouse. I gave the blooming jasmine an extra hello yesterday and thanked her for her fragrant blooms. These plants are the grounding force for me. My relationship with them is powerful and my connection to the bigger picture is written within them. During my morning routine I look deeply into what I have created.

When my mom was getting sick, for the last year of her life my delicate schedule revolved more around her than me, my kids and my husband. I know they could feel the pull but they understood the best they could. After I’d get my two girls to school, I would go to my parents’ house. I helped my mom bathe and lotion her dry legs, clip her nails and get her dressed. Before it got really bad we would walk to the end of the driveway and then have a simple breakfast.

Sometimes, while my mom was sick, I’d drive her to the shop and we would sit on the velvet couch and soak it all in. She was my biggest fan and loved being there. She would delicately pick flowers out of the compost, which is really hilarious when she could have any flowers and as many of them as she wanted. This is such a testament to who she was — never taking excess, seeing the beauty in everything and, above all else, being thrifty. She would always hold up her finds and shrug her shoulders to her ears. This was her signature move when she’d encounter something cute. This action gave pause to her fragile situation. For a minute she could forget she was sick.

At the end of my chaotic work day I would grab my mom a ton of flowers, no matter what sad and composting flowers she had found earlier, and bring them to her house. I’d use the pitchers and vases she loved and put them in every room — a couple of tulips for the kitchen window, a garden rose for her bedside table, some lisianthus for the bathroom vanity and something big for the kitchen table. She loved having these flowers in the house. When we were young, she always said, “If I were rich I’d have flowers in every room in the house.”

Funny she never thought of just having a florist in the family. The flowers in the house were as therapeutic for me as they were a gift of love and beauty for her.

My mother was soft, sweet, thoughtful and gentle. She cared for strangers as much as she cared for us. She exuded empathy every day. She used to cry during commercials on TV or offer to buy winter coats for kids who needed them. She showed us what it meant to have love and grace in your heart.

I remember my mom’s last lunch. I prepared it for her. She ate half an avocado with Italian dressing right out of the skin with a spoon. This was something we ate as kids. I thought it was so clever. When I came back the next morning I was shocked that my dad had moved her to her hospice bed in the living room. We read all the literature that hospice gave us but nothing can truly prepare you for the last days.

I had brought a few arrangements over earlier that week and they were fading and blowing wide open. I stared at those flowers when it was too difficult to be in the room. I have memories of that time that are like photographs in my mind. I can see my mom’s hand in mine and the tulips that had opened like stars. After she passed, I pressed those golden parrot tulips between the pages of the books she loved. I thought it was a way to preserve the strength we used to get through. They were the last flowers my mom saw. The last arrangement that I made for her. I brought the pressed and dried flowers to the frame center and they made me five framed prints — one for me, my siblings and my dad. They are a reminder that we can make it through anything with togetherness and love. They are a symbol of the fight and perseverance. 

I know that I was meant to be the local florist. Everything has lead me to this. I am surrounded by plants and flowers and I have tapped into an energy of love and light that this community needed. The flower shop is someone’s moment of Zen, someone’s splurge, someone’s crutch, and someone’s self care. It has become a destination for people that need support or want to feel a jolt of creativity, offering the same nourishment that my mother once did.

Emily Coulter is a mother of two and the owner of Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven. This essay is adapted from a presentation she made at the spring Chilmark Women’s Symposium.