I’m back here in my RV on the sunny, cool coast of Washington, slowly returning to earth after one of the more surreal and intense experiences I’ve ever had.
Two weeks ago I said my final goodbye’s to mom in the SW of France.
I came home several days ago, and I’m only just now getting around to the point of being able to write about it. There’s so much I could say about all this, and in other ways so little. What I’ve been through is nothing humanly new. People do it all the time all over the world. And yet I know that my experience is also deeply unique, as every experience of death is. I’ll do a poor attempt to express some of all this in today’s post and, although my personal processing of all this is not done (far from it), I only plan to write about it this one time. Some things can only be shared so far, and the rest has to come from within.
My mother was laid to rest on a Thursday evening under the hot French sun with rolling hills of sunflowers and wheat laid out before us. We had a small ceremony, just the family and we ended the evening with wine and food. I think she would have approved.
Her resting place is somewhere special that she absolutely loved.
The SW of France is a countryside that’s remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It’s a timeless place of small towns with narrow brick roads, old farmhouses, 14th century castles and hills that shimmer in unending blue layers towards the ancient peaks of the Pyrénées. Here nature and man are melded into a comfortable rhythm, a slow pace of life that ebbs and flows with the rise and fall of the sun.
Early mornings the breeze blows lazily, carrying only the sounds of a few roosters bringing in the day. Daytime the sun rises and bakes the landscape in hot oranges and yellows, ripening wheat and withering the fields of yellow sunflowers that are so dramatic in July. Eveningtime the heat eases and, most times, the breeze brings a cool calm. On other nights the heat explodes in a spectacular display of violent lightning & dark clouds that rush from the mountains like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Afterwards the world feels clean and cool.
I totally get the connection.
In this place we came together as a family these past 2 weeks, my brother, sister, father and I. We spent our evenings on the warm terrace, watching the sun elongate over the Pyrénées, talking about our mother, sharing our deepest feelings, crying, laughing, bonding and drinking copious amounts of wine. It was one of the most intense and oddly most healing times of my life.
But the whole death thing was surreal and as natural as death is, I was so very unprepared to handle it. From the moment I found out (a moment that stopped all time) to the moment I saw my mom’s body (not at all what I expected. Once the soul leaves, the body becomes almost unrecognizable) to the moment I saw her enter the crematorium (surreal, yet again) to the moment I held her ashes (so very much heavier and denser than I ever imagined) to the details of documentation & red tape that had to be completed (the paperwork of death is incredible). It was all so surreal, so very unnatural.
And yet her spirit seemed to be still in the house. She was in the garden, in her room, in her clothes. She was gone, and yet not gone.
My mother and I had many disagreements over the years, that I cannot deny, but in my final goodbye to her I spoke of the things which I felt I had inherited and cherished; her love of travel, her love of good food, her green thumb, her stubbornness, her good looks (well, maybe I stretched a tad on that one). A part of her is in me, for good or worse and those things will live on until my own passing from this earth. All the rest, all the remaining pieces of our relationship. Well, that’s for me and me alone.
I also spent many hours during my time in France thinking about my mothers life and wondering if she felt she achieved what she wanted during her time on earth. Death makes us question life in this way, asking ourselves if we are living our own lives to the fullest.
Some say you should live each day as if it were your last. I don’t think that’s possible, or even advisable. No-one can sustain that level of Adrenalin or intensity over the long term. But I do think you can attempt to live life with presence and love. To be present in the moments you’re given, to cherish the beauty around you, to love as much as possible.
My last evening in France I walked around the garden, breathed in the warm air and watched the redness of the setting sun spread across the horizon. I felt mom in the garden, I felt the love of my family around me and I felt the serenity of nature. At that moment I was present and I think that’s as good as it gets.
RIP mom, be free and happy.
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