“I love you,” I yelled as I walked away, down the sterile hospital hallway. “I love you, too,” she yelled back. She was on the mend and it was OK for me to return home, back to Asheville. But as I walked in my house, my sister called. “You need to come back to Charleston,” she said. And that was it. That “I love you” would be the last time we spoke to each other. She was gone. There would be no more words, no more hugs, no more laughter, no more listening from my Momma. She was gone and I thought I would never be the same again.
We surrounded her in the hospital, not knowing what to do. Say your goodbyes they said, take your time, she will know you are there.
I looked down at her hands. She had her rings on. She never wanted to have her jewelry on in the hospital. So, we asked her, “Momma, do you want us to take your jewelry off?” Her hand lifted slightly. Not with us, yet with us. We looked at each other and laughed. That was my first sign that even gone, she would still be with us.
The next morning the tears woke me up. Sobs, catching my breath, my chest hurting, I could feel my broken heart. I was lost, untethered. My Momma was gone. Everyone told me the grief was so great because the love was so great. But I felt so lost. The person that always cared about me, always loved me, and was always there, was gone.
Back in Asheville, on a cold spring day in April, I walked around a mountain lake, still crying, still grieving the loss. As a looked up, something in the sky approached me and followed me along the bank, flying low. It was an egret. In Asheville. Her favorite bird. Telling me I am with you, you will be OK.
Slowly, the grief and sadness began to be overtaken with memories, stories filled with love and laughter. I began to realize all the little things she did to show her love, her spirit, her spunk are the things that I remember most about her. She had her flaws, she was not perfect. But the things she taught me, showed me, modeled for me, that would be what would sustain me.
She taught me laughter, adventure, joy. But she also taught me the subtleties of myself that make me who I am. The feature that may not be obvious or outstanding, but the things that make me smile and laugh, knowing I do what I do because of her.
She loved to ride around and look at things, random trips down a side street or two that would make you feel like a hostage in the car if you were a passenger. She would just keep driving …”one more thing.” she’d say. She followed fire trucks to see where they were going. She drove to the beach when hurricanes were on the way to see the big waves. She would send me articles of happenings in Charleston and of friends that were in the paper. She would have loved the “share” feature on Facebook. She collected recipes and cookbooks, but I don’t remember her making that many dishes from all those clippings (that I still have).
She loved to shop on King Street, from her car. Pulling up to a store, honking the horn until they came out, giving them her credit card and thanking them with a big smile for getting whatever she wanted and bringing it to her as she sat in her car, on King Street, engine running.
She taught me to “call me when you get there.” She was always anxious to know how our travels were going, had we made it to our destination. Before cell phones, it was common for my sister or me to hear our name called over the intercom in the Atlanta or Charlotte airport. “English Drews, please go to the nearest customer service desk.” Where, on the other end of the phone, would be Momma. “Hey, how’s your trip going?” We are still not sure what she said to pull that off.
At my first wedding, when the flowers didn’t show up for the ceremony, she taught me to be resourceful and to question incompetence. Before I realized what was happening, the bridesmaids were carrying a single red rose (borrowed from a dozen roses for a church member turning 100 the next day). The flowers – for the next day’s service – were ceremoniously brought to the alter by white-gloved, tailed tuxedo groomsmen before the wedding party walked down the aisle. Guests thought it was a symbolic proclamation of the event. When Momma called the florist to find out where the flowers were, and the florist sheepishly declared she thought the wedding was on a Tuesday, Momma didn’t skip a beat, asking, in a very demanding yet Southern tone, “Who the hell gets married on a Tuesday?”
And when a few years later, I called my parents to tell them I was getting a divorce from that same marriage, worried I was disappointing them (even though I had a very good reason for the phone call), she just supported me. She taught me to trust my instincts, saying, “Honey, if it don’t look right, or don’t feel right, it ain’t right. We love you.” Yes, she did.
Slowly I have learned that she is always with me. She gave me everything I need to know that her love is always there. And she sends reminders to let me know. A gust of wind on a calm day, an egret flying close by, a rainbow, a sunbeam. Some signs are obvious, some I am sure I miss, but I know she is with me, always.
Because she made me the person I am. She shaped me, influenced me. I am not me just because of me. I am also me because of her.
English is a Charleston native who took a break from her sales and marketing career to renovate the historical family home her great grandparents built in 1915. That adventure led to the creation of her blog, RenovatingCharleston.com and her pursuit of finding and sharing the stories of our ancestors. Her days are filled with gardening, pouring over historical documents, and finding ways to tell and preserve the stories of our past.