Saying Goodbye ~
When I designed the East Lawn, my vision was a place for beautiful weddings. It is painfully ironic that the first large-group gathering there was the memorial for my former spouse, Matt Gifford.
For those of you who are new readers, I’m Terry, owner and caretaker of Willowbrook Manor English Teahouse and Farm Stay.
You are getting this email because you either signed up for this newsletter, made a reservation at Willowbrook Manor, are a friend of mine, or are a follower of my mother, author Liz Adair, who has her own corner here in The Willowbrook Word.
The House that Matt Built~
Many of you ask about the history of Willowbrook Manor, because it looks like a century-old building that we probably restored. Actually Matt and I designed and built the house you see here. We purchased a cow pasture in ’96 and moved our family there in ’99. We actually lived in a tent trailer for over three months while we built the garage, then lived in the garage for five years while we built the house.
Our family of eight moved into the house in 2004. Matt spent five additional years doing all of the custom woodwork, doors and trim you see when you visit Willowbrook.
This picture was taken in 2005 in what is now the Tea Room. It was before Matt hand-crafted the gorgeous woodwork that fills the tearoom today.
Closing a Chapter ~
As many love stories go, Matt and I did not ‘live happily ever after’. We divorced over 12 year ago. I raised the kids here on the farm and he raised the money to support us. Even though the marriage was over, we always tender relationship of friendship, love and care towards each other.
Matt was a great cheerleader for my business. He brought tea sets from his trip to Myanmar and continued financial support long ofter the kids had left the nest so that Willowbrook Teahouse would survive the year-long closure from the pandemic.
A Tragedy ~
Our family lost Matthew on August 13th. Below is the social media post from our daughter Kjaisa who was with him when the accident happened:
Strong Love ~
Our children, Derrill, Addy, Kjaisa, Vaughn, Aliece, and Jens leaned on each other through the trauma, shock and grief. They forged ahead with the decisions and details that accompany the loss of a loved one. The memorial was hosted here at Willowbrook, on the East Lawn overlooking the Cascade mountains where Matt had summited almost every peak. The kids chose to display the hardwood artwork he created, fittingly framed by nature.
Family and friends pitched in to ready food, gardens and grounds for the large crowd that came to pay their respects.
My birthday was the day before the memorial, but wasn’t even on my radar. A few friends of mine showed up and cleaned up the cottage greenhouse, set the table with a decadent apple-spice birthday cake, and surprised me with an estrogen-filled girl-party amidst the work and grief.
A Tribute ~
All six children spoke at their father’s memorial. Their unique personalities shined through as each one articulated their love and tender memories of their dad. The service was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. We laughed and we cried.
Matt’s backpack, boots, and trekking pole were placed in front of the podium. His hat was perched atop the box marked ‘Temporary Container.’ The kids, honoring their dad’s penchant for being frugal, chose this ‘budget version’ when they picked up his ashes.
Kjaisa created a beautiful urn for her father. Etched on the front is a symbol of her father within a trio of gothic arches that represent the mountains he loved and where he lost his life. The back of the jar has a butterfly ascending heavenward, the wings made of six tear drops, symbolizing each child. On top of the jar there is a geometric flower with eight petals, representing our family.
When I first realized Matt’s ashes were going to be in a clear glass jar, I was worried as I envisioned black dark ashes like you find after a wild fire. But Matt taught his children to look at nature, ‘and then look again’. There is beauty in what remains. The clear urn has become a form of comfort as we all struggle with saying goodbye.
It will take a while for our family to be ready to spread Matt’s ashes in the mountains where he loved to explore and commune. For now they sit in what used to be the family’s music room, now tearoom, on the bookcase that he built. A teacup adorned with ‘forget-me-nots’ sits next to it. Sometimes the kids come home and just sit alone in the tea room, holding the urn.
Navigating grief is a long process.
Time for Liz ~
I asked me mom to write a bit about Matt.
Here she is:
Liz Sez ~
I loved Matt Gifford as a son-in-law, and I loved him as an ex-son-in-law. I would not have counseled Terry to reconcile after their divorce, but I felt it was essential to continue my tender relationship with Matt.
I gave him a genuine hug when I saw him, fed him on occasion, and always remembered him at Christmas time. He was, after all, the father of my grandchildren, and Derrill and I had a special connection with his parents. Besides, he was a good man—flawed, as we all are—but good. And he was fun company. He always greeted me with the ‘word for the day,’ quizzing me to see if I knew it. I invariably did, and he’d mutter, “Rats!” and go on to tell me about the latest thing he had learned.
Matt loved peach jam, and every Christmas I’d try to give him at least half dozen pints of the sweet stuff. Our own trees blossomed too early, and there always seemed to be a late frost that decimated our backyard crop. But, I had friends who had a different variety that was more dependable, and I could usually beg enough for a couple batches of jam. However many jars were in his Christmas box, he’d mentally divide by twelve, and he would mete out that amount of jam to himself each month.
Addy sent me this picture of the jar of peach jam they found on the counter when they cleaned out his apartment. I gave him six jars last Christmas. This would have been his July/August portion. Somehow, seeing that almost-empty jar made his passing seem real to me, and I mourned the loss of that sweet man.
(Now back to Terry…)
This is the part of my newsletter where I typically announce the winners of last month’s giveaway and present something new and groovy to give away. But today I am giving a ‘takeaway’ instead.
Here is the takeaway:
You never know when someone you love won’t be there anymore.
Take time to hold the ones you love close. Share love, repair love and forgive.
Thank You ~
With Matt’s passing, so too has the financial support that allowed me to sustain the family farm while I built this business. I want to personally thank each one of YOU who has come to my home for tea, a bike tour, placed a mail order, come for an overnight stay, or simply told a friend about Willowbrook. You have made Willowbrook successful enough that I can continue on my own! I am deeply grateful. I have found the work I do here on the farm welcoming guests and serving tea is the best therapy for grief.
Carrying On ~
This weekend we begin Harvest Tea and there is still room for you if you would like to come. Click HERE to reserve a table. The weather is wonderful so we will be serving under the tea tent. Self-guided bike tours will be offered at a reduced rate for those already coming to Harvest Tea. If you would like to sign up click HERE for a $50 bike tour.
Holiday Tea is booking up fast. You can make your reservation HERE.
Winter is a great time for a cozy tea-stay at Willowbrook. One of my British guests said, “It is a taste of England with an American accent.” To book a five-star getaway click on the links below:
Next issue we will get back to lighter news.
Today I’m sending tender comfort to those of you who are dealing with loss of your own, whatever that may be.