Jean Perdue: A Life in Poems
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For Jean Perdue, writing poetry began as a means of self-expression. After a stifling first marriage, poetry was Jean's way of navigating her new independence and rediscovering her identity as a seventy-something single woman. The words flowed freely, as if she was catching up for lost time, and since then she's penned thousands of poems. Not afraid to bare her soul, her one wish is to share her poetry collection and the story of her life - which are essentially one and the same.
A poem can be the chance to see through the author's eyes; to view the world as they saw it, in that particular moment. Though not a photo book in the traditional sense, both allow for similar, transporting experiences. That's why we felt Jean's story definitely had a home in MILK. So we teamed up with the non-profit organisation Wish of a Lifetime Canada to help them fulfil Jean’s wish of publishing her extensive collection to inspire the coming generations.
“You don't know what's inside you that can be used to encourage and inspire others."
Jean was a vibrant and brave young woman. She grew up on a farm in Huntsville, Ontario with a loving family and a lively creativity. During World War II, she joined the women’s division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, thrilled to work in the intelligence department in Ottawa and help the war effort.
Soon after, she married and had two beautiful children. Sadly, Jean found herself lost in a marriage where she wasn’t allowed to be herself. With a heavy heart and a deflated spirit, Jean desperately needed a way to find her voice, to rebuild her confidence and to face the world. Writing poetry allowed her the space to reflect on the past and ponder new hopes. In her poems, she was able to once more find the courageous young girl who volunteered in World War II and loved with all her heart.
Jean’s poetry details lost love and motherhood, grief and faith, growing up and growing old. Her poems are honest and unassuming, like Jean; and in their simplicity, they are beautifully poignant. Through Jean’s thoughtful observations, we see the everyday in a state of graceful simplicity. She shares the pieces of her life in a way that carefully wraps you into her experiences and compels you to feel what she feels.
“The old folk love the presence
Of family and friends, no presents
To hear about their exciting life
And the children who cause them strife”
- An excerpt from Present and Presence
After Jean found a second love in her poetry, she was lucky enough to fall in love again. She met her second husband and fellow cat-lover, Sherman, at a weekly euchre game. “I saw this man across the room wearing a stylish hat. To me, he had this aura around him, and I knew I needed to meet him.” The couple enjoyed a blissful 10 years together, volunteering within their community, playing card games and doting on their house cat, Waifer. In July 2016, Sherman passed away, and Jean turned to her poetry once again and found solace in her creative space.
“I miss holding hands as we walked
The wonderful stories he told when we talked
The thank you breakfasts that I prepared
And all the precious moments we shared”
- An excerpt from July Sixteen, Twenty Sixteen
Jean continues to volunteer as a Chartwell ambassador, leading exercise classes and bingo games. She hopes that her journey can empower and inspire other women, from every generation, to persevere in spite of hardship and embrace the beauty of life everyday.
On June 27th, 2018, Jean gathered with fellow residents and dear family members to receive her personalized book of poetry. “When I saw it, I was overwhelmed,” she said tearfully, “It couldn’t have been better”. We were humbled to be a part of this amazing wish. Thank you Wish of a Lifetime Canada and Chartwell Retirement Residences for creating this moment and inviting us to be a part of it. It was an honor getting to know Jean through her poetry and to know that others are now able to do the same is a wonderful thing.