Say Goodbye to Depression — A Short Story by Jean Lee

Written by Jean Lee, translated into English by Veronica Liu

Click here for Chinese language version.

I have always felt that flowers and plants can bring comfort to people suffering from depression.  It also brings on positive emotions and is a great conversation piece.

I own a small flower shop.  After careful consideration, I decided to contact PEERS, a non-profit organization in Oakland offering programs to help eliminate stigma and discrimination.  Veronica, a staff at PEERS referred three participants for an interview with me.  One of the interviewees was a woman in her 50’s that looked like she could use some help.  I decided at that moment that I would hire her.   Her name is May; she is stocky and dressed in light blue from head to toe.  The hours that we agreed upon were every Monday from 12-2 pm.

On the Monday that May started work, and as soon as my shop opened, the chef from the restaurant down the street came over.  He asked if we could put a bouquet together for him since his parents were coming for lunch.  He added that he does not care about the cost, then turned around and left.  That means we had to deliver the flowers to him and quickly too.  I put together a bouquet, grabbed May by her hand and said, “Let’s go together to deliver this.”  (I did not think it was a good idea for her to go by herself on her first day of work.)

She did not seem to object to me holding her hand and hurried along since I walk fast.  We got to the restaurant; saw the chef’s fashionably dressed mom and his dad.  His dad looked displeased.  I was a little embarrassed, just said hello, dropped off the flowers, and took May by the hand and left.  I was nervous and did not want people disrespecting my assistant.

May tells me her full name is May Rada (Rada means happy and willing).  This is such an appropriate name because she is always willing to do anything I asked of her, 100% cooperation, and never talks back.  Perhaps this is part of her diagnosis.

After two hours of work had passed, she did not ask to leave for the day.  I waited a little bit longer and still nothing from her.  So I asked, “May, do you know what time it is?”  She replied, “2:15 pm”.  “Well, it’s time for you to go home, thank you so much.”  I wanted her to be able to speak up so I said to her warmly, “May, next week try to watch the time and let me know when you want to go home, ok?”  She mumbled softly a “yes”.

May worked for two weeks and on week #3 she called me.  “Can Ling Ling come to work?”  I guessed that Ling Ling told her to call me (Ling Ling also came for the interview, but I did not pick her.  She and May are friends).

“Why?” I said. “I am tired.”  I said encouragingly: “You are doing really well.  You can take your time and you will get used to it.” I did not want to spoil her, but I wanted like her to face reality.

Thanksgiving went by, and then Christmas passed.  I knew May was alone during these two holidays.  I asked if she wanted to bring some flowers to go and visit her brother and sister.  She replied, “When I was at my worst with my mental health challenges, my brother said I was a lazy person, and I fool around with men. My sister also told my father that I was stealing her clothes…..”  She was speaking in a very loud voice, and I was a little shocked at that. So I patted her shoulder to calm her and to let her know I understood. Had I not gone through the same path with people not understanding how I feel?

“May, how did you live through those days?” I asked.  She said, “I cried, talked to friends quietly in the dark.” I can totally understand because I did the same thing talking to my husband before. May continued staring at the floor and with her head bowed down, “I can’t speak about my illness because it is embarrassing.”

When spring came, I changed her hours.  She would accompany me in the morning at 8 to several big companies to do floral arrangements.  She had to get up at six to come to the shop.  She never complained and came willingly at such early hours.  At one of the big companies where there were several hundred employees, I noticed that her hands were shaking as if the temperature was below 30 degrees.  My first reaction was to say, “Stop that”.  Shaking like that in Chinese custom is shaking away all the blessings and luck.  However, I did not react because I knew that it must be the side effects of the meds she is taking.  She was also sweating and it was not hot either.

I thought perhaps she is going through her normal hormonal cycle, but she said no.  She is taking Chinese medicine to help with this “issue”.  I realized that she is quite stubborn, but it is a good thing too because that means she has her own mind and not a follower.

The next time we were on the way to work at another company by the ocean.  As we were getting out of the car, I told May that I am not going to take my jacket with me.  She said, “No, it is windy near the ocean.  You might catch a cold.”  She grabbed my jacket from the car.  Oh my God, she has finally come out of her shell and is beginning to care about me.

It made me think of my own mother and the sadness I felt.  May’s concern and perhaps “loving thoughts” for me had awakened my emotions. “Mother, no matter what, you should not be so abusive to your daughters. Can you have a little love, just a little bit for your daughters?”  As a Chinese proverb said, “As deadly as a tigress, she would never eat her own cubs.” I now have doubts about this proverb…

One day I asked my husband if he had seen any change in May. He said she is smiling more these days. This is what I had observed too.  I thought the change was because of my help, perhaps not totally, but I definitely had something to do with the change in her.


One day, May gave me three small vases, of which I sold two.  I wanted to give her the money that I got but she refused to accept it.  She was mumbling something that I did not quite understand.  Finally, I understood that she was saying “Free, free” in English, meaning she got them free, so no money was necessary.  I stuffed the money in her pocket and told her to keep it.  I joked and said for future funeral expenses.  She laughed, and I laughed too.  Laughter is definitely contagious.

I was complaining that I spent quite a few hundred dollars fixing my car – it was annoying!  May heard that and said she knows someone who works on cars on the weekends.  He is very reasonable.  She can call on him the next time I need work on my car.  I joked and said, “Do you want something to go wrong with my car again?”  She laughed.

“My husband said his knee hurts when he walks, you might have some overtime coming.  May be he is just pretending so he doesn’t have to listen to me.”  I can see May smiling out of the corner of my eye when I said that to her.  She interrupted me, “I have medicine for the pain because my knee hurts too.  I will bring you some next time.”

I continued, “My daughter-in-law’s hands are always freezing cold, perhaps her feet will be cold too.”  May interrupted me, “Three black soup, red prunes, not black, plus red beans and ……”  Oh my God!  “May, you are so knowledgeable, how can I remember so much?”

“I will write it down for you”.  She took out paper and pen from her backpack and wrote out the recipe.  Her Chinese is good.  I joked, “Very soon you will be my boss.  No, may be, supervisor.”  She smiled at my goofiness.

We have been working together for almost one and a half years! After all this time, May definitely has a special place in my heart.  I am hoping one day she will be able to freely express her points-of-view, and when it is time for her to get off work, she will let me know that it is time for her to leave.  I want her to be more assertive.  I also want to hand make her a new pair of pants, definitely not light blue.  That light blue signifies illness, I want her to have a pair of “healthy” pants and say goodbye to depression.