November 14, 2018. A Eulogy for My Other Mother on the Day of Her Memorial...
Or, rather, opened the door.
Or, rather, opened the door.
I was in the midst of my Master’s research and suffering debilitating headaches. Any physical activity could trigger one, and yet as an avid runner, physical activity had been my meditation. I was physically and mentally desperate, and by the third mention of this strange process called “rolfing”, I decided to make a call.
There were two individuals listed in town, but it was Vera who returned my call. I couldn’t afford the treatment on my stipend, but the kind woman on the line anticipated that the moment she heard I was a graduate student and offered to work out a trade with me. She had a garden, a breath-takingly beautiful garden that needed some revision, and I was an able-bodied person in my late twenties.
Something transformative began for me in that office space overlooking the garden, listening to the trill of birdsong…For the first time in my life, an elder and wiser woman fixed her gaze on my person and saw me. Exactly as I was—not as she wanted me to be or thought me to be or was frustrated that I wasn’t. My body (and my mind) were an instrument out of tune, and Vera, like a master luthier, coaxed them into harmony again.
Hers were healing hands. Listening hands. Hands that heard the harsh tones of muscle and sinew and followed their lead. Teaching hands.
As Vera worked on me, and as I worked by her side in her magical garden, we shared many long conversations. Weeding, pruning, transplanting, cultivating…all labors spent in endless discussion. Every day, I came away with a head full of the depth of Vera’s talent and experience—and a carload of clippings to cultivate in my own garden.
When Vera told me about her lymphoma, I felt helpless anger but also complete confidence in her magic. Vera could make anything that was good grow. Her roots were stronger than any cancer. But still, when I studied meditation, I imagined her body renewed. I stayed up nights catching the nocturnal leaf-cutters eating Nearly Wild, the rosebush she gave me, because I somehow believed that curing the rose of its pests might cure Vera of hers.
We were plying our trowels in the garden the day I told her my new boyfriend and I planned to start a family. I already knew the story of Vera and Jack’s meeting and of her previous marriage, but that day, she explained to me why she’d never had children: Part chance, part intension, part missed opportunity. By the time she’d found the right partner, it was too late.
As I listened, I felt a wave of deep sadness and guilty gratitude. I knew in that moment, that Vera would have been an incredible mother: empathic and nurturing, strong and resilient, artistic and wise. I knew it because she had become a mother to me. She had changed me, had noticed all the best seeds of my being and brought them into the sun. My yard flourished with the daughters of her greenery, and I had flourished, too. She had raised me up.
Through illness and continuous set-backs, Vera lost neither grace nor wisdom. I never saw her angry about how damned unfair it was. Not once. She just kept growing and learning. When my first son was born, Vera had recently undergone chemo treatments, still she and Jack came to bring us food and cuddle the new one. Her gentle hands heard my baby’s cry, and with that subtle magic, calmed him. I brought him to Vera’s house often, spreading a blanket over the carpet, and talking with her as she played with and worked on him. She could enchant any child. Both of my children loved the garden, going for walks, and visiting a friend’s farm with Aunt Vera and Uncle Jack.
Remembering that Vera is absent from the world is the most painful sensation I’ve ever known—Like a hole in the fabric of the universe, slowly sinking every illusion of justice or meaning. There is no meaning in Vera’s absence, but as I find myself back in her garden, tending her flower beds, pruning errant aguga, pulling pesky clover, I reflect that there is meaning in the way I fill her absence: With beauty—the light of morning as it peeks behind the fish pond; With song—the water tinkling over the rocks, like the fluttering of her harp strings; With silence—an invitation to listen and to learn.
The last time I spoke to Vera was just before her surgery; I told her that I loved her, but I don’t think I ever really made her understand what she gave to me. I’m sure those around me knew. I told everyone I met that she put my body back together. I told my friends that she taught me to nurture a garden. I told my yoga students that she showed me how to move. When I speak of her, I speak of her as my friend and mentor—as my other mother. Looking back over the past thirteen years, I see Vera’s touch on almost every good turn my life has taken—even in meeting my husband, whose friendship I discovered when I confided that she had cancer. He’d had a close friend suffer with lymphoma, too.
I regret not filling Vera’s ears with just how important she was to me. I hope she knew it. I hope she could see that I—and everyone whose life Vera touched—are proof that her roots are stronger than any cancer. Vera’s roots reach deep within us all. She lives in the white and yellow of spring leaves; the pink, red, and indigo of summer flowers; the warm umber and orange of fall; in the evergreen of winter. Stronger than forces of nature or human to uproot.
In deepest love and gratitude, Vera, I honor you.