It was the Saturday before Mother’s Day and Day Four of my European adventure. I strolled the sacred halls of Melk Abbey in Austria. The tour guide was talking about frescoes, relics and illuminated manuscripts. I couldn’t help but think about my daughter, Donna. She would’ve loved a trip like this.
My siblings and I had always wanted to go to Germany together to connect with our roots. Now that all our kids were grown, we’d finally taken the plunge and booked a 16-day European river cruise leaving from Vienna, Austria. Over the past few days, we’d sailed the Danube, stopping in charming villages along the way. We’d browsed shops with handmade Nativity sets and eaten our fair share of apple strudel.
It was the trip of a lifetime—and one I knew Donna, an artist, would’ve really enjoyed. She’d passed away 20 years earlier, at the age of 27, right before Mother’s Day. I was feeling a little nostalgic with the holiday just around the corner, thinking of all the thoughtful things she always did. Donna loved nothing more than a good gift or surprise. When she was little, Donna would give me plaques covered with roses—for my name, Rosemary—and butterflies, her favorite. The rose gifts only multiplied as she got older. One year, an enamel rose pin. Another year, a rose-printed scarf. And I could never forget the year she’d gotten her first real job and had a salary that allowed her to splurge. She’d greeted me on Mother’s Day, beaming.
“These are for you, Mom,” she said, presenting me with a crystal vase embossed with an R, filled with 12 long-stemmed roses.
In the days after Donna died, our family and friends received signs. Little things that popped up out of the blue. A friend had seen a cloud in the shape of a D on the evening of Donna’s passing. One night we’d heard Donna’s favorite hymn—Amazing Grace—while at a family dinner. My sisters, who live in two separate states, had been besieged by butterflies on the same day. I’d even had a dream of Donna, dressed in gleaming white attire, that had just felt so real.
All of it was such a comfort, a reminder of the closeness we still felt to Donna. I know some people wonder if they are connected to their loved ones after death. Amazingly I could still sense Donna’s presence in so many ways that were so uniquely hers.
The tour guide led us through the abbey, switching topics to Baroque architecture. After we finished there, my sister Margie and I headed back to our cruise ship for some downtime before dinner.
Margie and I walked down the cobblestone streets to the docks. As we neared our ship, I caught sight of another vessel peeking out from right behind it. The boat was unlike any other ship I’d seen on the trip. There was something painted across its side and bow. I craned my head to get a better look. Smiling red lips holding a long-stemmed rose and, beneath that, two words.
To Rose, from Donna?
It was the name, I later learned, of a German riverboat. Once again, my thoughtful daughter was letting me know she was there, with a long-stemmed rose and a kiss for Mother’s Day.
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