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Siena, Violet, GermanyDecember 15, 2008

Bear with me.

Six or seven years ago, I went with my little Mama to Italy. In Siena, we stayed at Alma Domus, an old convent converted into a hotel. It's still run by the nuns there, and down below the rooms is the cell where St. Catherine (patron saint of Italy) received her stigmata. (In the church you can still view her head and her finger. Deliciously grotesque.)

It was the most wonderful place to stay, maybe one of my favorite hotels ever, and I believe it was something ridiculous like $30 a night.

It was a small, narrow room, and dark. I opened the shutters to the french doors while Mom used the facilities. The view that was on the other side of the doors was completely unexpected, better than anything I could have imagined. I waited for Mom to exit the bathroom. I demanded that she shut her eyes and cover them with her hands. I led her by the shoulders out onto the narrow balcony.

I told her to open her eyes.


All of Siena, with the Duomo front and center, at our feet.

That's not even where I was originally headed. Well, then. I promise I'm rambling slowly to a point today; forgive me if it takes a while to get there. But I love that memory. Her excitement at that view was like when a kid finds a bike under the Christmas tree. Only better. Damn. 

So, in Siena, while wandering around, somehow we ended up (as people do) in a pharmacy, sniffing things. We found a package of violet soap. (I love violet because my mother's mother had a little pot of solid violet perfume. When I was little, there was no more perfume left in the tiny pot, but Mom kept it because of the gorgeous smell. I loved to stick my little snout in it.)

Now, this violet soap in Siena was like NO other violet I've ever smelled -- it was the distillation of violet's very essence, amplified to capital letters: VIOLET! I AM SO VIOLET! We bought a package each. The hotel room was between the pharmacy and the town square, so we dropped our goodies in the room and went on tromping around the city in the light rain. 

When we got back to the hotel that night, we both thought we could smell a hint of violet in the elevator. We wondered aloud about it. But oh my god, when the elevator doors opened on our floor, the smell of violet hit us like a punch. Our room was at least ten doors away from the elevator, and the doors to the room were closed. We looked at each other. It couldn't possibly be from our soap.

But it was. The rest of the trip was marked by that trailing violet smell. It was on our clothes, in our suitcases, in our hair, in every room we slept in for the rest of the trip. I've never been able to find that particular scent since until recently I smelled a candle called, moronically, "Living Room." It's a lighter version of that smell, so I bought it.

I burned it this morning while I wrote. I usually burn a candle when I write in the morning before dark -- something about the ritual of it draws me into the words or at least reminds me of my smoking days, which is a happy memory -- but I haven't been able to burn that candle. Until today.

Because this morning I woke from a dream about my mother. I was at some kind of graduation, my own I think, although I couldn't tell what I was graduating from. Everyone was around me, all my loved ones. I thought, "Mom's not here." Then I felt, really felt, a tap on my shoulder from behind me. Mom's cute little voice said, "Mom made it." I turned, and she was there. I swear to god, she was really there. She looked strong and healthy, probably about sixty years old, so about the age she was when we went to Italy. I got to grin at her for long seconds, and she grinned back. I got to hug her in the dream, and it was so very, very real. I could feel her body in my arms.

Then I woke up. I stayed in one spot, memorizing every part of the dream. I struggled for so long after she died with dreams that were clinical and corporeal, dreams that had everything to do with disease and nothing with who my mother was. 

Then I got up and burned that violet candle.

And guess what? Today I'm accepting an offer from a German publisher (Goldmann) for my book. It will be translated into German, a language my mother spoke fluently (she taught English in Wurzburg for several years in her twenties). Coincidence? Sure, it's highly likely that's all it is.

But I like the shape of this coincidence.


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Now I have weepy eyes.

And congratulations, again.

What a wonderful experience for you, both the dream, and getting to experience Siena with your Mom.

She was there to congratulate you.

Wow. Just wow. This was such a wonderful post to read. Thank you for sharing.

I swear I didn't read Leslie's comment (14:05) before I thought, 'Wow. Just wow.'. That is just amazing, and congratulations!

Congratulations - and so nice to feel your mom was there with you : )

I love that you make me smile and cry at the same time. I lost my dad this year - I want one of those dreams.

Coincidence or not, it's beautiful.

Foreign sales are a Very Good Thing. Congratulations.

Everything is connected, if we're wise enough to see it. Congratulations!

What a wonderful dream. I love the ones that are so real. And a hug from your mother; wonderful.

(But OMG! I am so freaked out by the head and finger of St. Catherine, ew!)

So ... does this mean your week *is* getting better? Oh, yes it does!

How wonderful. My dad visited me a couple times in dreams after he died, and they were just that real. Fabulous!

Mmmm that was her...and what she would have said.

She would be so proud that the first foreign language your books go to is German.

"Italian next." she would say.


That brought tears to my eyes. She was indeed there to congratulate you.

All the best from chilly Toronto!
a longtime lurker,

German?!? Congratulations: you're going to be famous and best-selling on two continents!

How wonderful! The dream and the book! I think your mom was there to see you graduating to a new phase of life--that of "published author."

I sometimes have those kind of dreams about my dad and my grandmother (though not together!). I love them. It gives you a very special connection to the person who has passed away. Wishing you many more (I'm sure you'll have them).

I also heard once that scent evokes our strongest memories.

I believe when coincidences overlap like this it's called serendipity.

Oh Rachel, you are such a moving writer, so of course you are selling your books. I still dream about my mother, and she's been gone for over 27 years. Lovely, lovely post. Thank you.


I love the dreams of my mother--I gave up telling her she was dead after the first couple of times and it's nice to have the extra time together.

Wow. How lovely, all of it.

Congratulations on a well-written, lovely, lovely blog entry today. It is a beautiful piece of writing. Now we know why your novel is sought after by the publishers all over.

what a beautiful post! I too have dreams about my mother and savor those early waking moments remembering the dream, voice, face, touch - honey, she is really with you always, just in another form. I hope you find some comfort in that - the love never ever dies!

oh and of course, congrats on the German publishing! you know your mom had a hand in that don't you :) but it was all meant to be and you deserve it! congrats!

Beautiful post.
I love your style and the whole world will, too!

What a great story - I will have to read this again at a more quiet moment of the day. Goldmann, hm? Good, very known publisher. You see, my native language is German. I am from Austria and also live here. So right in the middle between Italy and Germany. Still, I will try to get hold of your book in the original version. Now that you are translated and famous and all, it shouldn't be a problem. ;-) Many greetings, take care, Doris

Beautiful. You always do this to me. Smiles and tears in the same breath. I dream of my grandparents all the time, and in my dream they're perfectly fine and healthy, and WITH ME, and I love those dreams. German publisher, coincidence? I think not :) xxx

What a wonderful story, Rachael; thank you for sharing it. So happy for you, both for your coming to peace with your Mom's passing and for the exciting places your writing is taking you. xoxo

Oh Rachel, that was beautiful. I'm sitting here at work with tears in my eyes. You are so lucky to have the relationship with your mother that you do (did?). I hesitate to put it in the past tense because that loving relationship will be with you always.

I had dreams about my grandmother for years after she died and she was always like I remembered her in those dreams. They were wonderful.

I'm just so happy for you; so proud and happy. I love the direction you're life is taking you!

Oh, schmoo. Now you've got me all teary-eyed at work. I'm so happy for you, girlie, and what a lovely story.

I have the same dreams about my father. Often, they are when I am traveling, and I always say, "you found me!" And then I say, "I'm fine! Go find Mom!" It always feels so comforting.

Today is my birthday and I am having my annual "it's my birthday and my dad is dead! WAAHHH!" moment, so this story hit me right in the heart.

That's so wonderful! And German, wow!

You might want to try the perfume "N’aimez Que Moi" by Caron. It's violet and rose, but not froofy. I think you'd like it. (I just put some on, myself!)

I'm glad to hear you had a dream like that. I've had at least two dreams of my mother like that. They are as precious memories as any memory from life.

I'm sure it was NOT a coincidence. Thank you for sharing that. It was beautiful. Also, congratulations!

You are such an amazing writer! Thank you for sharing your memories and your dream. I think it's so important to treasure our memories of our loved ones who have gone on - it seems like your mom wants you to do that. The graduation is interesting.

Wonderful story! I have had a few dreams like that and they are huge blessings.

Congratulations on the German translation!

I've come to believe that there's no coincidence... things do happen for a reason, we just have to pay attention. I still dream of my mom, seventeen years later, and she's still giving me good advice. Beautiful post, Rachael, and congratulations!

What a wonderful magical experience! You are magic!

Beautiful dream. Thanks for sharing! Congrats! (I don't believe in coincidences, I believe in reasons. This trail of events happened for a reason, and I think we're seeing what it was now)

Oh, not a coincidence. More like a foretelling. Too many clues in the dream and the memories it evoked.

I'm glad you can light the candle and feel joy, and I'm glad you had a "good" mother dream. When my parents began appearing to me looking rested and healthy again rather than decrepit and ill, I knew it was the first sign of healing. Congratulations on the new publishing deal!

Weepy eyes and goosebumps! Yes, those dreams are so healing, and I don't believe in coincidences either.

That is a wonderful coincidence! I'm sure any psychic would tell you that it's not a coincidence at ALL. I'm glad you had that beautiful experience, and when your book comes out in Germany, I'll recommend to my Mom!

Wow :) Things are so going well for you. And, you really, really, really deserve it. All the good karma you give us through your blog is coming right back at 'ya!

Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory. And congratulations for the translation of your book into German! I speak German much better than English - so please keep us informed about this.... I will be the first one to buy it :-)
(I visited Siena many, many years ago with my school class - maybe you remember me and you still know I was born and raised in Italy - and I remember that town as one of the most impressive ones I have ever seen in my life. Italy is so much more.... poetical, beautiful and full of history and atmosphere than Germany is!) - take care!

Fantastic news about the book. I'm sure your mom had nothing at all to do with it, really. And visiting you in a dream at the same time? Nah, that's not connected. (grin) I am so glad you had a nice hug from your mom.

I have been reading your blog forever. I have never commented. I read your blog for the knitting. I wished you happiness, through the screen hee, when you got married.
Now I'm going on and on. We recently lost my mother-in-law and while I never for a moment thought she was anywhere else but with her loving husband, I had a vivid dream with her two nights ago. The same night my husband and son had vivid dreams of her. I feel it wasn't so much to tell us she was okay but to tell us that we are going to be okay because there has been alot going on since she passed away. I could go on and on about the coincidences.
This post really helped. Thanks. And congratulations on all the book success. Keep it flowing

Very beautiful and lovely thoughts. Thank you for sharing your dream and congratulations!

Damn, Rachael, you made me cry on a Wednesday! I miss my mom so much, too, and I treasure my hugging dreams, which don't come often (maybe 3 or 4 in 9 years) but are very strong.

Oh, and GEWALTIG congrats on your latest book deal.

Wow, I got the chills from that dream narrative! Oh my gosh! That sounds exactly like something she'd say! Wow!

I had a similar experience staying at a convent in Sicily, but unfortunately I was traveling alone and didn't have anyone to share the moment with, unless you count the spirits of my long-departed Siciliano relatives.

Speaking of scents, have you ever experienced the lovely hint of what I think might be lavender while traveling on 580 where it makes the jog from Hayward on up to Oakland. It happens for a couple of weeks in the spring, and it is so lovely.

I had a similar experience staying at a convent in Sicily, but unfortunately I was traveling alone and didn't have anyone to share the moment with, unless you count the spirits of my long-departed Siciliano relatives.

Speaking of scents, have you ever experienced the lovely hint of what I think might be lavender while traveling on 580 where it makes the jog from Hayward on up to Oakland. It happens for a couple of weeks in the spring, and it is so lovely.

I so envy you your relationship with your mom... What a wonderful memory, what a wonderful dream!

Congratulations, now I will get to buy the book in English and in German too for my sister. How exciting.
Isn't it weird how we can dream as if it is real? You can almost feel that touch on your shoulder and it lingers on when you wake up.

What a beautiful essay. If it is OK with you, I choose to believe that it is all NOT a coincidence, but something more...meaningful.

I had a somewhat-similar dream about my maternal grandma. It was after that that I stopped missing her so terribly and told myself that she had moved on to where she was supposed to go, and that I have enough memories of her to sustain me.

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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