It’s been nearly a year and five months since my mom left this earth. I believe she’s still traveling because this morning at 3:00 a.m. I woke up to her scent and a hand on my shoulder. The hand was comforting and firm. I sat up in my bed and her voice told me to weed in the garden and in my head.
I love my house! It has been my happy spot for 22 years. My flower beds strewn with nasturtium seeds and zinnia seeds are my delight along with the foundation plants. Yesterday I attacked the weeds and this morning I did again. I gave away crocosmia and oakleaf hydrangae babies and realized once again that gardening is like meditation. Breathe in, breathe out and be grateful to remove the dastardly Florida Betany. And somewhere after an hour and a half I imagined the 50 coreopsis plants that have found their way waving their yellow heads in happiness and the zinnias parading their robust petals will heal me. All will be well.
My mom was a Darwinian gardener later in life. She would plant a plant and water it and she would look at it and say just grow! So I weeded my one large bed and thought this. Prayers are like plants.
This is how the prayer goes and my response.
I am sorry
Please forgive me
I love you
I am sorry mom that I was so busy, I put my life in front of yours.
Forgive me for indulging on my life. And putting a dog first.
I love you forever and am doing forever by what you left.
Thank you for doing an incredible job. Mom! I get it right with dogs!
For me, 2015 was a year of contradictions. There was much sadness with the memorial services for my dear mom, Rosemarie, and my Uncle Willie and I attended too many funerals of people I cared for. It was a year of getting to know my cousins and a year to understand life in its many dimensions. It was a year to pause on many occasions, cry my eyes out and laugh hard with those that I love.
There are so many things that I have been grateful for this year. Most importantly it has been the constant love that has surrounded me by family and friends. I have been given many riches by their constant support of me and my latest novel Letters from Della.
2015 was not my happiest year, nor was it my darkest. By June I knew I needed to create what happiness I could and that was to go home. What is home to you? To me it is Europe. I find beauty in going to a bakery in Germany and picking up a butter pretzel and drinking strong coffee. I love to practice my poor German and talk to anyone using a thick tongue that is used to English. Most importantly I need the architecture to ground me.
When my mom was super sick at the end of 2014 she asked me to visit her twin at Christmas of 2015. For whatever reason she knew that Uncle Willie wouldn’t make it for the holidays and he didn’t. So in the hottest summer that I can remember I started planning. Yes. I needed to see my aunt, Tante Brigitte. Yes. I needed a vacation. So I went to Germany on December 17th and spent four and one – half days with my beloved Aunt B. My cousins and two other aunts rallied. They took care of me and gave me kindness, love and food. Namely Spaetzle!!!
On that last Monday I visited downtown Stuttgart and thought I needed a map. I did not because this is where I lived for two years, where I visited since I was thirteen. I embraced it all and the past was with me; filled with enormous and wonderful memories.
That late afternoon I traveled to Florence via Amsterdam and was greeted by the concierge at the Hotel Donatello at 12:45 a.m. “Ms. Perry, we’ve been waiting for you.” he said. And so it began. The journey was one of four wonderful days of seeking succor and peace. What I found was that my heart was whole again. The beauty of Florence is magical and if a soul needs healing; Florence will do that. It will also overstimulate you and so you walk endlessly visiting the churches; St. Maria Novella, St. Croce, San Lorenzo, the Medici Chapel and it goes on. Then you feel you will miss something and you run like a banshee up the 238 steps to the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. I then toured the palace et al. In the apartment of elements a tour guide took me behind the scenes to see another view of the city and a frescoe that was being restored. I asked him why he was doing this and he said that I had been followed and that the other staff wanted me to see the splendor, because I got it. That’s how it went. One glorious thing after another! Enjoy the pics!
Cancer kills people and ruins so many things. It takes away your happiness and it has a smell. One that I will never forget and it is terrible. It makes people afraid and everyone in its wake is affected. No one gets out alive. The patient will die and those that mourn will never forget its evil.
Through these many bleak months, weeks, days and hours I have come to understand that I can’t understand this insidious illness and yet there has been such kindness that I have received from loved ones and strangers. I realize that I can’t take back the past, but I can live in the present. I can go to sleep at night and be grateful for what others give to me, a smile, thoughts and wisdom, music and books.
I could choose despair as it would be easy and then I would be controlled by it. But I will not. I will choose the beauty in how this all shakes out. The beauty of love and memories and of thinking that I am grateful for all that I have. The beauty of a wonderful day filled with voices of friends and children; the beauty of a warm hat, fabulous oysters, and realizing that 20 years ago I started a tradition. Nobody remembers that, and that is as it should be, but I do and so tomorrow I plan to create another tradition. What is it? I have no idea. I think I’ll just believe that some higher force will bring it to me!
This year has been filled with harsh realities, saying good – bye and learning an appreciation for life. Three people that are close to me will say good – bye to the world in the near future. I have struggled, cried and in the end soldiered on; because that is what we all must do. We do the best with the knowledge that we fail daily and hope that each new day will bring a hello from the sun and a goodnight from the moon. We listen and act accordingly, hoping that we can share what we have learned and we love our family, friends, dogs and cats. Anything to get through. This is life.
I went to Germany recently to say auf wiedersehen to my beloved aunt and uncle. In my head they have always been larger than life and generous to a fault. At the age of 13 for my birthday they took me to The Castle of Chillon so I could see what Byron saw.. then there were trips to Paris, London, Salzburg, Munich and I know not where before I was 18. This time I flew to Europe and visited only them in a nursing home and it was enough. The three of us could recreate the trips through our imagination and memories.
I have been home for one week and realize that every day I have on this earth must be held tightly in my embrace. I have such an understanding of future loss and I promise to love life and let go all the things that hold me back.
In my junior year of College I met Gail Widner. We glanced at each other in Anna Katona’s lit class and bonded over a poem written by Wilfred Owen. Tears streamed down our faces as we listened to the atrocities of WWI; she wearing black heels and a Mondrian inspired dress and me wearing black leather pants and a red sweatshirt. Within a short time Gail and I became besties and that’s how I met Gretchen, her sister who was studying Dentistry at MUSC. Gretchen was loving, kind and generous. She gave always… to everyone.
We read aloud to each other as girls do; books like The Moon in the Water and The Chains of Fate and we grew up dreaming of living in English Country Houses and Scottish Castles. We had great imaginations and filled all those rooms with countless furnishings. And then we grew up.
Gretchen loved history and she loved genealogy. She embraced her Huguenot roots as well as others from other parts. She was the grande dame of the Dames of the Magna Carta in South Carolina and was involved in so many things. She even figured out the patchwork quilt of my father’s ancestry for me. She loved her family, cats, dogs and she loved children. Before having her amazing son George, she took her nieces and nephew on many adventures to the magic kingdom and beyond. She loved to laugh and she loved to be happy. She was so excited when Gail and I traveled to Italy in 2008. She was exuberant that we would just see it all. She was a great reader too and I was thrilled when she read my busy tome and liked it.
I’m looking at a vase right now that Gretchen gave me about ten years ago.It is made of glass and filled with a kaleidoscope of colors.I remember when it arrived; the day was cold and my heart was bleak. I used it once when it was almost knocked over and broken. I loved it so that I chose to put it in the bookcase so nothing could happen to it. So tomorrow in her honor I will buy flowers and dang that vase will be in a place of honor with wildflowers. Good night dear friend, good night. You are missed by so many…