In Memory of Susanne Perks (1940–2015)
By Susannah and Ya’Acov
Susanne Perks winged her way into our lives very early on in our relationship, in the late 1980s. She and Roland came into our lives before we started working with Gabrielle Roth, before we got married and before we started living together. We were living in the East End of London, Ya’Acov in a community in Bow, and me in a women’s squat in Hackney. I was training and working as a Gestalt Psychotherapist. Ya’Acov was inventing photo-therapy, and we were both involved in non-violent direct action with the peace movement.
Ya’Acov and I went together to a Deer Tribe workshop called Quodoshka (sacred sexuality) and were blown away by the medicine maps, the practices and the teachers: Batty Thunderbear and Donna Talking Leaves. And there we met Susanne and Roland, and almost instantly became friends. They invited us to visit them down in Devon.
We arrived at Nappers Crossing in the dark in our beat-up little Toyota Starlet. Getting out of the car into the watery smells and sounds of the leat and waves of spring blossom fragrance, I felt like we’d arrived in another reality. Their house was a perfect little sanctuary, filled with Susanne’s art, pots and ceramic beings, plants and her famously daring but altogether “right” colour schemes. Nappers Crossing had been a derelict old railway man’s cottage, which Susanne and her former husband Dick (Rosie and Jay’s father) had bought and renovated. They had lived in great simplicity with their two kids in the midst of a building site as they made it into a real home.
By the time we got to know them, Susanne and Dick had separated and Dick was living in New Zealand, and Susanne and Roland were together at Nappers Crossing, with their incredible garden. Susanne was an artist, potter and clay sculptor, and worked as an art therapist and yoga teacher with people with learning difficulties, whilst Roland ran the innovative ‘Totnes School of English’ and they both cultivated their beautiful garden with passion and committed attention.
Susanne was a long-limbed being of quiet grace, humour and insight, and we quickly came to love her as a really good friend, as we shared the adventures of our new medicine path with her, with the local leadership of Sue Jamieson.
We moved to Devon six months to the day after that first visit to Nappers Crossing. Through being with them and their garden in the Dart valley, we’d realised that if we wanted to leave London we could. It was simply a choice.
Following visions and prompts (Susannah’s emerged in Deer Tribe ceremony with Heather Campbell and Donna Talking Leaves), we met and then trained with Gabrielle Roth and started teaching. Susanne got behind us and our work in a gentle and powerful way. She became our first long-term organiser and her quiet grace, gentle humour and capacity to get things done calmly, happily and seemingly effortlessly was a source of support when we really needed it. Susanne’s belief in us and her accompaniment in the first years of our work are a crucial part of the ground from which our current work is blossoming. Susanne was there soon after Reuben, our son, was born, when he learnt to walk, and she and Roland and our friendship was a steady and important part of our lives. Meals at Nappers Crossing were always a special moment, especially the stuffed baked apples that Susanne used to cook for us.
When Susanne had her stroke 20 years ago, all our worlds changed. Roland called us early that morning and we were quickly on the way to the hospital. Susanne survived when the doctors thought she had a very low chance, living through an eight-hour operation in which thunder, lightning and fierce rain battered the hospital. Her aneurism left her with a paralysed left side and her memory scattered. She described it thus: “I feel as if my memory is a bowl of fruit that someone has thrown up in the air, and I can see each piece of fruit clearly, but I have no idea of their sequence, of how events are related in time.” Remembering something, she’d have no idea if that was yesterday or 40 years ago, and so had to reconstruct her own time line of memory.
With Roland unerringly at her side, she put her mind to it to recover all she could and they worked and worked at her exercises and practice. She and I (Susannah) made the mythic tale ‘The Walrog’ together, which was done as a dialogue between words and art, and gave us both much joy. For this next year, we will be selling it and the accompanying CD in aid of the art and garden fund at Mt Tyron, the nursing home in Torquay, which gave Susanne such good care in her last years. You can purchase it from: www.movementmedicineshop.com
In the first months after her stroke, Rosie did much of the work Susanne had done for us, and in the end, Roland took over being our organiser in order to ‘keep it in the family’, with the intention of giving the role back to Susanne as soon as she was better. But though Susanne made great progress, she never re-found that capacity. We remember her dancing with effort and determination with her walking stick across the floor at KEVICCs, waving it in the air in jubilation as she made it to the other side.
Roland was a loyal companion for many years after Susanne’s stroke, accepting the change in his life and his lady with dignity, commitment and surrender. Susanne was 14 years older than him, which had not shown so much pre-stroke, as she was such a willowy, youthful woman. But after her stroke, Susanne aged and Roland aged too. In order to stay alongside her in resonance, in a way, he had to. He grew his beard, became a bit plump and remained her loyal and loving consort.
Until one day, after 7 years, it was clear that he could not do this any longer. His vital life-energy demanded to be expressed. He shaved his beard, re-appearing as a youthful man, and fell in love with another Susanne (Fehr). This tender situation was handled by all three of them with as much honour, honesty, dignity and care as was humanly possible. Eventually Susanne Perks moved from Nappers Crossing to a new home in Totnes, creating another magical kingdom of colour and beauty in a little bungalow. Her family supported her to live on her own with the vital help of social services and some amazing personal caregivers. One of them, Jane, came to love and care for her as a dear friend. For a while, Malcolm Barradell lived in her new house and cared for her.
Over the long years in which Susanne has lived with the results of her aneurism, she always has lived to the full within the restrictions her body imposed. I remember our son doing a school project with her in which she told him: “I don’t think, if I had not had my stroke, that I would ever have found the level of awareness that gives me such joy in such simple things, like the song of a bird, or the colour of a flower”. Susanne continued to have more small strokes over the years, which slowly depleted her physical capacity, until in the last years, she needed a level of care which meant she had to move to Mt Tyron.
We have witnessed the strength of her spirit and her powerful commitment to life, to finding joy and humour in every way possible. We remember how, when we saw her, she would always find a way to show us her care for us, as well as receiving ours for her. We are so pleased that she was able to come to see us here in our new house last autumn (thank you Mt Tyron), and that she saw where we are now, and was so happy with us for the beauty of this house and land. We will always remember the holy peace and silent mystery of her death, and feel blessed to have been there with her, and with Rosie and Jay.
We wish you Susanne, free, joyous flight now that this long, courageous vigil is over. Thank you for all the support, love and encouragement you gave us. We recognise you as an ancestor of the work we do now. Bless you and your freedom and your memory, which will always remain with us.
Susannah and Ya’Acov
“Your words are a lovely remembrance of your connections to this extraordinarily beautiful woman. I remember so many of the threads and feel blessed to have been part of many aspects of them; the love and friendship shines bright as the star that is now our dear friend on her eternal flight.”