Anne Panning’s memoir successfully brings together eloquent essays mourning the loss of a loving parent while remembering childhood experiences within her family and currently parenting her own two young children.
Immediately following her mother’s funeral, the grieving Panning searches for communications from her mother. The first communications she attributes coming from her mother are not of dragonflies, but of a book Better Home and Gardens Sewing Book: Custom Sewing Made Easy. Sewing was embedded in her mother’s DNA. Another sign was of a laminated prayer card she found on the floor of Target: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah-66. With these signs, she believes her mother is reaching out to her.
Then, early in her bereavement, Panning identifies the dragonfly as reappearances of her mother, be it a live dragonfly that flits in front of her along the Erie Canal or the solar powered dragonfly lights aglow in her garden. To her, dragonflies represent sacredness and fleeting beauty.
Her mother Barb Panning died in July 2007 after a minimally invasive procedure to insert a mesh sling to correct a pelvic organ prolapse had gone terribly wrong. In 2007, the advertised procedure posed minor risks of complications. But in 2008, the FDA published its first official warning about the dangers of the mesh, too late for Mrs. Panning.
Anne’s mother was a “saver,” storing away souvenirs throughout her life: high school yearbooks, notes from her father, then her mother’s boyfriend, magazine articles, fabric scraps from sewing projects. Digging through these souvenirs, Panning still wanted to know more about her mother. Through correspondence with two of her mother’s best friends, she arranged a dinner meeting with them. Listening to their reminisces, Panning finally begins to understand and accept the hard truths of her parents’ life.
The collection of essays in this book reflect four dominant themes: her mother’s medical conditions, what the author learned about her mother’s past life and her own life, and her grieving process as a mother. At times, within a single essay there are bits from the author’s childhood, along with her feelings of grief and relating these snippits to her role as a parent. Organization of the essays presents a conundrum, but in the end, the reader can appreciate the emptiness left behind when a beloved parent dies.
Kay Gillies Dixon has published two books with the Peace Corps Writers imprint: Wanderlust Satisfied and Tales of Family Travel: Bathrooms of the World. Tales of Family Travelreceived the 2017 Peace Corps Writers award for Best Travel Book.
Kay served as a Peace Corps Volunteer: CARE Urban Community Action in Colombia from 1962 to 1964. As author Anne Panning notes, she met her spouse, Mark, while serving in Peace Corps, Kay also met her spouse, Kevin, in the Peace Corps. Two of their four daughters have served as Peace Corps Volunteers: Karol Dixon, Nicaragua 1993–95 and Kimberly Dixon, Niger 1995–99.