Amy Souza and Jennifer Fendya

Yogic woman statue in fuchsia flower

Jennifer Fendya
Inspiration piece

Tender Perennial
By Amy Souza
Response

In one of her last voicemails before she died, my mother said, “I’m lonely. I want to go home.” My heart still breaks for her and for me, because I feel the same and neither of us would ever get what we needed most—a return to that shingled Cape Cod we dreamed about.

I played a role in my mother’s loneliness by living three-thousand miles away and not contacting her frequently enough. I also hid so much from her. At ninety-five and in a nursing home, she didn’t need the burden of my troubles. But that meant our talks lacked realness. As I grieved the losses of home, marriage, career, friendships, I kept it all to myself and our phone calls followed the same trajectory: How’s work? Fine. How’s Dan? Good. What’s new? Not much. Are you busy? Yup.

The magic of Zoom added more to our conversations, because video made it easier to communicate and my mother always marveled at the technology she couldn’t quite believe was real. The last time I saw her was on my fourteen-inch laptop screen. The activities manager carried an iPad to my mother’s room, where she lay curled in bed at 2 p.m. My usually energetic mother wasn’t dressed, a prisoner to the pandemic and restrictions placed on care homes. No visitors, no activities, no reason to wear real clothes. Most days she wasn’t allowed to leave her room and so spent the last months of her life confined.

This day, the activities manager had to wake her, and I watched as my mother stirred. She wore white pajamas, a white robe, under white sheets and a thin white blanket. She wasn’t wearing her usual wig, and her flighty wisps stood at weird angles. But when she realized what was happening and that she could see me on a small screen, she perked up and we laughed and talked for our few allotted minutes. I promised I’d get a vaccine as soon as they came out so I could get on a plane to visit her. “Six months,” I said. “March or April the latest.”

Why didn’t I fight harder to get her out of there? Fly back, rent a house, break her out. That her last days were spent stuck in half a room feeling abandoned and longing for home will haunt me forever. How could it not?

***

Every spring, from my early childhood on, someone (a neighbor? my sister? certainly not my father or me) bought my mother a fuchsia in a hanging plastic pot. They got the showy kind, red and white or purple with oversized flowers, grown as annuals in Massachusetts. My mother loved them. She hung the plant on our house’s entryway porch and from them until fall dutifully tended it; she and I took turns deadheading flowers when they dried and lost their luster.

So much happened in that house. The usual daily life but also turmoil—addiction, profound sorrow from multiple deaths, fighting, fear, abandonment. It’s surprising that my mother and I shared a desperation to return. But the house also contained our traditions, like the springtime fuchsia. And anyway, the heavy memories were ours.

But now the house is gone. My mother is gone. I feel as stuck as she looked in that lousy twin bed. This spring I bought a fuchsia and potted it for my porch. The flowers are smaller and here in Oregon this tender perennial should survive the winter.

People who hold strongly to the belief in linear time judge those they perceive as living in the past. “Let it go” comes the refrain. “Move forward. Move on.” Maybe they’ve not faced enough pain. Maybe they’re wired differently. Maybe they didn’t have a mother who talked to her dead twin sister at night before going to sleep and sometimes in the morning, too. Maybe their present and future are bright and they don’t mind closed doors. Or maybe they just can’t see there are many ways to exist on this human plane and that no one, try as they might, has every answer.

 

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