I’m sitting with Isabelle, formerly my goat cheese maker, in the sun in front of her home. She is now in a wheel chair. Too weak to walk where just two weeks ago, or maybe three? She had been doing the dishes and able to descend the stair case. It has been a steady descent since her epileptic fit just a month ago. I was lucky to see her as I did – alert, present, if without a memory to follow a conversation or remember where to put the compost.
She is sleeping more and more. Brief moments of waking are greeted with calm joy and presence by Paul Pierre, and other friends at her side. Meals are taken when she is ready. Gently, one by one, Paul Pierre guides and encourages her to eat, first the salad, commenting on the sauce made by their good friend, then some pea pods, a bit of lovely organic beef raised by a favorite farm, onwards to some cheese, perhaps a bit of fruit salad, wine, chocolate. It is no more than a bite of any of these, perhaps two. One of five of these bites she is able herself to bring to her lips. A gentle commentary accompanies each moment of the meal, nothing too profound, simply a moment of good humor, an appreciation of the texture and taste entering her mouth. Paul Pierre is reinforcing the present to her, accentuating the sensations of her body, perhaps keeping her with us on this plane?
During my last visit I had spent time showing her pictures of the children, JP, the goats and more. I attempted a similar offering today with photos of Venice and our mutual friend the beekeeper. She seemed to awaken and participate, enjoying the visuals as they passed upon the screen, but within ten minutes she was wearied. This tumor is ever evolving, and her presence is ever dimming.
As we sit outside, she drifts off to sleep. The dogs are at our feet: her wonderful Bearnese sheep dog, and Filou. Both have tendered their affection, their moist noses towards Isabelle, reached for a moment of grace as she patted them, felt them, saw them.
What is life after all? How many books and pod casts will I read and absorb when here the lesson is so deeply incised? What truly matters? I am selfishly living alongside, absorbing the blessings of their company. I am seeking answers for my path, my choices, my values. And here, so much of the noise, the blurry world simply falls away. I am in the warmth of a loving and caring group. I am in the warmth of a world warming into a full spring and soon summer. I am in the color of the flowers and the sounds of the buzzing flies, wasps, birds and snoring dog.
I'm aware of my effort to be there but not too much. My natural energy is ebullient, and here I need to be calm. I am sensitive to the energy, but not always able to control my speed of speech, my leap into movement. Her nap is precious, sacred, protected by all. Her need for sleep encouraged where I would speak with her, encourage connection. I'm not in sync, though my love is there. I'm in that state of "trying my best." There is a disconnect.
Will this be the last time that I visit? I shall offer again next week, but I know that I am not the most reposing of individuals. I bring tales, chatter, images, a chance for sharing. But she and Paul Pierre are past this now. It is a time to simply be at her side, d'assister à sa vie, to speak softly and lovingly, to rearrange her pillows and help her go from bed to wheel chair and back again. New information, a connection to the outside world, even laughter, are no longer on the menu. It is possible I've offered what I might at this point.
And yet, she is in me. I bring her with me as I drive back to pick the kids up at school. I’ve two lovely young boys who are there, interested, present, living day to day. I’ve turned away from the rushing, frantic existence. And somehow, the universe hasn’t abandoned me. I will work this season, I will pay my bills, feed my children, hold onto my house, cope on the basics. I’m not playing the stock market, I’ve not put oodles away for retirement. I’ve not really played by the rules of the system. But I am looking into a guitar class for Leo, seeing more friends, exchanging English conversation practice for a nourishing massage (once a week if I’m lucky). I am making my bread, tending my garden, tending my soul.
It doesn’t feel like a fantasy, it feels normal. In this world where the aged parent is taken in by the children, where the retirement home is a last ditch effort for only the most feeble and desperate, where loved ones are cared for and family means something... it’s more important to give and teach good values and be present in a relaxed and serene manner for my children than to chase after a nebulous retirement account. The last few years and the insanity of the banking crisis, the number of bankruptcies, etc., have led me to adopt the approach of lowering my expenses, limiting debt, and cultivating friends and loved ones.
I think I'm on the right path.