Women’s legacy blooms with bluebells

Jean Rolinger trailed behind her son and granddaughters, taking in the beauty of the scenery around her. She and her family were walking along the Leonard Katoski Greenbelt trail in Cedar Falls. It was nearing the end of April, and the bluebells were in full bloom.

The flowers blanketed the ground, seemingly stretching on forever. The forest floor was carpeted blue.

Although Jean was struggling with dementia at the time, the sight of the bell-shaped flowers provided her with a sense of comfort. Somehow, being among the bluebells allowed her confused mind to be at peace for a short while.

Jean’s son, Mark Rolinger, described the importance that the bluebells held for his mother.

“The bluebells were very special to my mom and her sisters and their mother. It was a place that their mother had taken them. My mom and her sisters would visit the bluebells after their mother passed away, and it made them feel close to her. It was also a place that my mom’s sister, Marilyn, enjoyed when she was sick with cancer. When Marilyn died, it was a place that my mom would go to be close to Marilyn. It brought a sense of peace and tranquility to an otherwise difficult situation, and I think they all felt they could go back there and be close to their loved ones that had died.”

Aside from the peace that it brought her in regards to her loved ones, the bluebells also provided Jean with a sense of appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation.

“Jean always described the bluebells as a place where God was present. She would look at the nature and greenery all around her, and she would say, ‘God is in this place.’” said Sister Madonna, a close family friend of the Rolingers.

Jean passed on that love and appreciation for God’s creation to her own children. Her eldest daughter, Cami Smalley, explained the peace and spiritual contentment that the bluebells offered.

“We paused in the midst of some of the most difficult moments in our lives to go to the woods and feel their blessing. No formal rituals. No sacred words. Just faith in the organic and living presence of God in creation and in and through each one of us … even those who cause us pain.”

While Jean passed away in January of 2017 after a long battle with dementia, the blue bells continue to flower each year, and the memory of Jean and her love for nature lives on with each spring bloom.

“Very often the bluebells are still in bloom on Mother’s Day. It depends on the weather. Sometimes they come in early, but it was very common for my mom and her sisters to visit the bluebells at or around Mother’s Day.  We visited the bluebells with my mom on the Mother’s Day 2016 before she died in January 2017. We have some great photos from that day.  It will always be a place that is special for my siblings and me because we will definitely feel close to our mom when we see them in bloom,” Mark said.

“Life can be hard. Nature has a way of revealing secrets of survival and resilience. Visiting the Greenbelt in early spring to see the ocean of bluebells not only marked the survival of another midwest winter … but inspired hope in the potential for new life to sprout within us as we endured our own hardships in life,” Cami said.

The Rolingers still plan on visiting the bluebells each year. They hope to pass the beauty of God’s creation onto their own children, just as Jean did for them.

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