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Chiara’s Loss

Chiara was walking in the forest the day it happened. A soft smile graced her lips as she ran her hands along the leaves and branches of the trees. She loved being in the woods, surrounded by the green things that spoke to her.

With a giggle, the young teen took off at a run, letting the leaves and branches whip by her and venturing further into the trees than she had gone before. Despite the unknown territory, Chiara wasn’t afraid. As long as the trees surrounded her, she was safe.

When she paused to catch her breath, a cry in the distance made her ears perk up. It almost sounded like her mother. With a frown, she turned back the way she came and moved quickly back to the village she hailed from.

Ice entered her veins as she got closer and knew for certain it was her mother calling her name.

Chiara took off at a run, dreading the worst; her mother was never home in the middle of the day. Something had to be wrong for the older woman to leave the nursery during the spring time rush. Running blindly, Chiara reeled to a stop before almost running into her mother.

Her stomach dropped when she noticed the tracks of tears and red splotches dotting her mother’s face and neck. Upon seeing her daughter, Nicola opened her arms.

Chiara wasted no time, lunging into the familiar embrace and holding tight to the woman that was her rock. The pair held each other as Nicola broke into sobs once more.

The young Herbalist could only guess at what would make her mother so distraught, but nothing that came to mind was good. She held on as tight as she could, fearful of what news her mother brought with her.

Nicola squeezed her once before pulling back. Chiara gripped tighter, not wanting to face what was coming, but her mother was like iron, leaving no room to avoid the inevitable.

Chiara met her mother’s soft green eyes as she felt calloused fingers brush a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. Her mother placed a gentle kiss on her brow saying, “my beautiful daughter—” Her mother paused as she studied the features so like her own, tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t know how to say this, love, but your Nana has passed on. The Goddess has called her home.” Tears trickled down her mother’s cheeks as she choked out the words that brought Chiara’s world crashing down.

Her heart leapt into her throat as her hands immediately gripped her middle, as if they could hold her together. The sobs that followed wracked her lithe frame.

Memories of the grandmother who was like a second mother flashed in her mind. Sitting on the counter while the smell of pies baking in the oven warmed the small kitchen, learning the names of all the flowers in her Nana’s garden, and running home after school, knowing there would be a sweet treat waiting for her consumed her. The young teen felt as if the air had been ripped from her lungs as the absence of her Nana hit her like an ox.

She felt her mother gently guide her from the woods towards her Nana’s cottage. As they reached the front door, Chiara dug her heels in, shaking her head, “I can’t, Ma. I can’t see her like that.”

She tried to twist from her mother’s grasp, but Nicola held firm. “You have to, love. Saying goodbye is healthy. It’s going to hurt, but you’ll be glad for it later.”

The door swung open to reveal her family inside; aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings surrounded the bed where her Nana lay motionless. Chiara entered slowly, as if in a trance.

Seeing her father, haggard from the ordeal, she ran into his arms as the tears started anew.

“She loved you so much,” he whispered in her ear, holding her close. She nodded wordlessly before making her way to the bed, shaking with trepidation at what she would see.

Her older brother slung his arm over her shoulder as she reached for the wrinkled hands that had taught her so much. As she stood there, all she felt was empty space. Squeezing her Nana’s bony fingers, she knew her grandmother was not present in that still body.

She struggled to form words in her head and out loud, as the realization that her Nana was really gone came rushing through her.

I love you, Nana. I will always love you.

Those words repeated themselves in her mind as the tears flowed freely. She leaned her head on her brother’s shoulder as her younger sister filled the space on her other side. Letting go of her Nana’s lifeless hand, she pulled them both close.

The three stood silently as they grieved their beloved grandmother, the one who had always made them feel safe and whose kindness knew no bounds.

Not a dry eye could be found as Chiara’s family wept for their matriarch.

Later that night, Chiara tossed and turned. Emotionally drained from the day, sleep should have come easily, but her mind had other ideas.

Rising quietly from the cot she shared with her sister, the young Herbalist grabbed a light coat, slipped out of the still house and into the night. A slight breeze made Chiara pull her coat closer.

Looking to the stars, she walked the familiar path to the big rock just outside the forest. This was the place her Nana found her whenever life seemed too hard.

Remember to count your blessings and put your family first. Trust in what the Goddess has planned and cherish the little moments, love. You never know what this life will bring.

Her Nana’s words echoed in her head as the tears returned.

“Nana, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry I never got to say goodbye.” The young girl devolved into sobs as she sank to her knees. Placing her hands on the rock in front of her, she leaned her forehead on its cool, smooth surface, closing her eyes as rivulets of tears streamed down her cheeks. Taking a shuddering breath, she gained ahold of her emotions and looked to the stars once more.

“Goddess, keep her safe. Reunite her with the ones she loved and give her wings to come visit those she left behind.” Her voice shook as she sent up the prayer she knew her Nana would hear. Closing her eyes and clasping her hands, she willed those words to be true as hard as she could.

Finally sitting back on her heels, Chiara burst into tears once more when she noticed the flowers that sprung forth from where her tears landed. They were the unmistakable white and pink petaled queen’s slipper, beloved by her Nana.

Vines enveloped her in a leafy hug reminiscent of her Nana’s warm and all-encompassing embrace.

I will always love you.

Her grandmother’s words echoed inside her mind as the grief overwhelmed her once again.

The next few days passed in a blur for Chiara and her family. The cottage and its belongings were gone through, funeral arrangements were made, meals and stories were shared, as were the tears.

All too soon, the day of putting her Nana to rest had come. Chiara woke with trepidation, not sure if she could face what was to come. Previously, if she had tried hard enough, she could pretend it was all a dream, but after today, that would be almost impossible.

She felt as if she was a spectator to her own life as she went through the motions of getting ready, putting her best dress on, brushing her hair, and donning the one pair of shoes she had. With a deep breath, she joined her family in the procession to the city’s temple. Her father pulled her close to his side, but the young teen couldn’t find it in herself to cry anymore. She leaned into his warm presence and simply took in the comfort he offered.

Chiara’s eyes stayed dry through the service, the words of remembrance, and even the final hymn. It wasn’t until they made it to the grave that she felt the salty drops on her cheeks once more. When it was her and her siblings’ turn to say goodbye, she joined her brother and sister in placing one hand on the simple casket that held the woman they cherished so deeply.

“We love you, Nana.” Her sister whispered.

“Watch over us, Nana, we’re going to need it. Especially Chiara.” Her brother teased lightly despite the tear tracks on his cheeks.

Chiara chuckled through the tears and nudged her brother in protest. “This isn’t goodbye, Nana, just until we see you again.”

With those last words, the three placed their roses on the rough wood. As Chiara’s rose hit the casket, a miracle happened.

Vines and flowers of every color sprouted from the wooden box until every inch was covered. Chiara and her family were speechless until, slowly, the tears returned.

Containing the sadness of a world without the old woman and the comfort from one last display of her Herbalist abilities, the salty streaks flowed freely as the newly decorated casket was lowered into the ground.

Years later, Chiara returned once more to where her Nana was laid to rest. Her eyes lit up as she gazed at the patch of flowers that always covered the woman’s resting place. Easing herself down next to the simple headstone, she said, “the day you always hoped for is here, Nana. I think I met the one.”

With the easy dialogue only found within families, Chiara told her grandmother everything about the young man she had fallen for. As she talked, she tended to the flowers, picking the ones that were becoming overcrowded and coaxing the ones that were struggling to bloom. Once she had gathered enough, she laid the fresh bouquet at the foot of her Nana’s headstone and placed a kiss on the rough stone.

“Miss you, Nana.” A single tear escaped the Herbalist’s eyes as she made her way back to the village and the life she continued to live in honor of the incredible woman she lost.