It’s my birthday. And it’s a big one. No I don’t mean with a zero. It’s bigger then that. I am now the age my mother was when she died.My mother was quite a beauty. She smiles at me from a black and white photo I have. Nearly 20 years have passed since I last saw her. Truth is sometimes I can barely remember what she looked like. If I strain I might hear the vibrations of her voice calling us kids to hurry to the school bus.
My mother couldn’t afford the luxury of travel. A place like Paris was an exotic dream. Her concerns were harsher. More immediate. What she had instead was the lush landscape of the north coast. A full vegetable garden, beautiful handmade dresses and a big horde of kids.
The last time I saw her she was no longer beautiful. She was propped skeletal-like on harsh white pillows at the hospice. I hardly dared to touch her for fear she might break. Sometimes I felt like this person in the bed wasn’t really my mother. It was someone else’s I’d stopped in to visit. Then she’d look into my eyes. I’d know that it was her. For sure. That this tragic thing really was happening.
So why am I telling you this. It’s because death is that elephant in every room.
It hides in every anti-aging potion. It why we make older people invisible. Why we want to look forever young when we are middle-aged.
Because when you have experienced a big death you notice endings.
And that really big one we would all prefer to avoid. To not think too much about.
Our own death.
In every goodbye, every last minute, every departure it exists.
It’s not to be overwhelmed by it. Instead to continually choose to live. Right now. In this very moment.
This is the antidote. Not to the dying itself, but to our cultural avoidance of it. When you sit with the real thing you cherish your moments more.
Loss reveals love. Death illuminates life. Brings light into the darkest of spaces.
It’s why one of my favourite places to be in Paris is her cemeteries. To wander the shaded allees of Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise is oddly life affirming. It’s a craggy mouldy beautiful place. I know it may seem macabre to say don’t bother going up the tower. Instead take a jambon baguette and sit in the cemetery. Hang out with the departed and some angels for a while. But I really hope you do.
My mother’s life was short. Too short. She left a lot undone. But those things matter less, then the intensity with which she lived.
At the very end my mother faced her death with integrity. She achieved a composure that I can’t imagine having. Bit by bit, moment by moment she said her goodbyes. She rose above pain and fear. Holding her rosary beads for courage she turned to her god and surrendered. What she left behind was a graciousness and light that was not fully seen before.
When I’m in Paris I attend mass at Notre Dame for her. I listen to the nuns sing the evening prayers in Sacre Coeur because of her. I leave behind little pieces of her. A line of her handwriting. A snippet of her embroidery in an envelope tucked amongst the crypts of Pere Lachaise. It is comforting to lay fragments of an ordinary life in one of the worlds great resting places.
Then I walk out onto Rue de la Roquette. Into the chaos. Grateful for it. The grunge and the dirt of the city street. I breathe it deeply. Determined to live fully.
Bernadette ♥ Be the Rose.