The hardest days are when Mom and I both are feeling down.

For exactly six months, we avoided that happening. Mom would have a bad day and I’d cheer her up by talking about the clouds above our heads or the bunnies at our feet. I’d have a bad day and Mom would, well, be Mom. But then on September 11, the six month anniversary of Mom’s COVID-induced assisted living lockdown, we both went down. A date that already was etched in our hearts as a time for remembrance and mourning was now also a cruel reminder of just how unmoored this country is when it comes to this virus that has not only killed us, cost us our jobs, but also left us even more divided than we were six months ago and isolated our seniors even more than we had already isolated them ourselves.

And Mom and I had nothing to offer each other. Platitudes and pep talks seemed so pointless. The bunnies had been run off by late summer fire ants, just as compassion in America has been run off by unmasked MAGA-ites. When we looked up at the clouds, Mom and I saw only lifeless clouds, no different than the day, the week, the month before. No different than the days which also seemed to just hang there. Day after day after day after day.

It wasn’t that Mom and I didn’t want to see each other. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to see the clouds, see the hope, see the days. It was just that we were empty, the two of us. Utterly and completely empty. All we knew to do was stand there, my almost eighty-year old mother at her window and her nearly fifty-five year old son on the ground below.

And stare at each other. Wondering when all this would end. How it would end.

For six months, I had never once, not even for a nanosecond felt defeated by COVID-19, but in those dark days of September 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th, I felt so hopeless. And such a failure. Here was Mom, living the short end of these days, and I, her son, had nothing to offer. It literally hurt to move.

But then early in the evening of September 14th, while outside watering the hanging baskets that, like me, were wilting in the heat of this summer of 2020, I looked over at a pile of rocks that I’ve been too lazy to shovel away. They’re from an old flower bed that I cleared in April. Multiple times since then, I’ve told myself that I’ll shovel them, a few trips at a time, from their current location on the edge of the porch to a pile I created on the side of the house. But I’ve never gotten to it. Because, well it’s hot out and it’s pretty tedious moving rocks one shovel-full at a time.

And it’s 2020. What’s the point, right?

Except this particular day, as I dropped the garden hose down into the various hanging baskets and waited for the water to stream out, I looked over at the long-neglected mound of rocks and saw a bright green sprout. I bent down and saw it had a few teeny-tiny leaves that were the same type of leaves on my hanging baskets (don’t ask me what type of flower it is; I’ve always been bad at remembering names). Somehow during a particularly windy day or maybe just of its own volition, a seed or some other piece of that hanging basket had broken off and made its way to this mound of rocks.

Now, of course this wasn’t the best place to relocate. There’s very little dirt in this mound of rocks. There’s no intentional watering. Certainly no kind of fertilizer. And it’s pretty lonely over there, to boot. Just a teeny tiny fragile sprout. And a whole bunch of big hard rocks.

But here’s the thing, over the past week, I’ve watched this little sprout grow…and flower…into what you see in the picture above. And I’ve felt my hope come back.  “No one ever said life is fair,” the saying goes. Lord knows we’ve all lived that truth these past six months. But no one ever said you had to let that unfairness defeat you. No one ever said you can’t wake up to find yourself tiny, fragile and alone in an unforgiving pile of rocks and not somehow, someway, tap into that eternal courage that simply comes from being alive…and find a way to grow.

And to flower.

That’s what I remind myself of every day when I go out to check on the solitary flower, give it some water and tell it thank you. It’s what I tell myself as I drive, now six months and ten days into this, to stand outside Mom’s window and encourage her, encourage me, to once again look up at the clouds and see wonder.

Because if that little flower can make it, by gods and goddesses, Mom and I can, too.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, click here for The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline , dial 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

The Mom Chronicles is a blog series about a middle-aged son learning to care for his elderly mother.