Friday, May 28, 2010

Good bye Isabelle

This morning we said good bye to Isabelle. Paul Pierre called me Wednesday evening to let me know that she'd died that morning around 3AM. Yesterday the family arrived, and today was a day for friends. He asked me to contact our mutual friend Sophie, the beekeeper. And I took it upon myself to call JP. Ooph, not an easy call for me. I would have vastly preferred to leave a message.

It was one of those moments when I just said to myself, you don't leave an sms about someone dying. That's just not done. This is something to be communicated by the voice. No? Ah well, it was brief, and awkward. What more to say? Were we going to chat about banalities? No.

I was saddened to learn of Isabelle's demise, and yet relieved as well. But I was thrown just hearing JP's voice. That sadness is frustratingly still in me.

In the end, both he and Sophie sent written notes to Paul Pierre. Neither was able to come to the mas.

And so, after dropping the kids off at school this morning, I headed out to St Martin du Crau. Paul Pierre greeted me, and immediately begged his excuses as he needed to be with others, elsewhere, that we'd find a time to talk in the future... Of course, and understandable. I gave him a hug, put Filou back in the car, and brought my roses and bottle of wine into the house.

And then... what? A simple greeting to faces I knew. A moment upstairs where Isabelle's casket was draped in a cloth, her daughter beside it. Then back downstairs. Could I help? A bit. But I felt rather out of it, lost, not at ease sliding into conversation with family members I'd never met. And so I took refuge in the cheese lab with Aurelie. Thankfully she was there. I grated some pepper onto her cheese, and helped a teeny bit (barely). Mostly I shared thoughts and feelings with her. She too is living a mini-nightmare in her own home as her mother is terribly ill, bedridden for more than a year now, and still for some terrible reason, hanging on. But, at the same time, her little girls -- like my little boys -- were being particularly lovely. Life has its sharpened edges, and its gentle ruffles.

Then back into the main rooms and outside. I helped put out the buffet of various foods brought by friends. I cut fougasse, and later the chocolate cakes. I opened some wine. And I waited. We then slowly made our way into the room to eat a bit, moving conversations. It was an event without direction. Paul Pierre was trying to be attentive to all who were there, and no doubt exhausting himself in the doing. His daughter Marie was sad and with her companion and her close friends. And others milled about. Other than managing food and cleaning and putting flowers into vases, no one dared impose themselves further.

And then, it was the moment for the casket to leave for the crematorium. Four strong men in the group carried it down the stone steps and out into the van. We gathered in silence, a few tears filling the pouches below our eyes, delicate streams descending. But... not a word, not a poem, not a shared memory, not a tribute, no note played on a cornet, or a violin, or a voice raised to the skies.

Each held his own council. We were a group of individual mourners in a shared space. Each held his memories to his heart. Why? why no ceremony? why no candles? why no sharing of our love for this woman? Why such a stiff upper lip? This is the Breton way?

I was lost, sad, and out of sorts. I wanted to let the tears flow. But in such solitude? Such silence?

And so I too departed, after helping clean up a bit. I climbed into my car and headed back to Avignon and the errands that awaited me there.

I've written before about funerals in France. And I wonder still why it is that there is such a different sense of things here. I attribute it as I might to the Protestant ethic of my world -- one where the people took back the right to communicate directly to God, to interpret the Word as they might, on their own. And thus gave themselves a voice and encouraged sharing their individual thoughts and perceptions. France is a product of its Catholic past (far more than the Protestant minority) -- a world where the priest speaks for you-- blended with its current laïc sensibility. Thus, if there's not a priest to do the talking for you, you don't talk, you don't interpret, you don't share your spiritual moments.

This is simply my groping in the dark to make sense of my own sadness in what I didn't experience this morning. As I shared these thoughts with two dear friends, and a colleague at the kids' Waldorf school, we were in agreement as to the importance of ceremony, marking the moment, sharing it, lighting a candle, reciting a poem, but most of all, allowing/permitting/celebrating a collective event.

And so, I grieve, and I am grateful that in this distant world that I've mostly made mine, I've friends who understand me, and who too would do as I would.

Once a bit of time has passed, I'll call Paul Pierre and see where he's at. What is next...


chicagogal said...

when we were planning the service for my mom on Monday, the rector asked me what I was looking for out of the service, and I said quite honestly that the familiar service and hymns were comforting. so there I was, reading from the old testament, after an admittedly long, long absence from the church ... "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." (Isaiah 25:6-9)

anyway, I hope you like the mountain and good food imagery. it did make me feel better (or less bad) about saying goodbye.

Diane said...

Isabelle was very fortunate to have you in her life. You were a loving friend,,,,I understand your frustration in not being able to light a candle in her memory. When my close childhood friend died in the States at 40 years old, I had such difficulty not be able to be at the funeral. Lisa didn't want flowers, just a donation to the cancer society, which I did. But last minute I called the local florist in my broken voice cracking and fighting (I lost) in tears, I gave my credit card number so that a bouquet of flowers was at the funeral from me telling her how I'll miss her and how loved her (I had to be there somehow).
Light a candle for Isabelle. For you.

Madeleine Vedel said...

Thank you Diane, and Chicago girl. It is such a powerful moment to say goodbye. To permit and accompany the passing of a loved one. So many cultures have sought meaning, ritual,.. Beautiful texts, flowers, gestures, music, flames... and I suppose, in this modern world, we need on occasion to revisit tradition, and/or to remake our own rituals. Take care -

Nathalie said...

Madeleine, what a moving and important post.
You are right about our culture. We have always relied on the religion to provide the words and the rituals for our funerals. If you decide to detach yourself from religion, what is there left? Nothing. You'd have to invent a ceremony all of your own and in a state of bereavement you're hardly in a creative mood are you? So nothing happens and it's all too sad.

I've wondered what my own funeral would be like. I don't particularly want a religious one but I do think a ceremony of some sorts is necessary. Perhaps something I need to think about and organise in my final months/years. But what if my death is sudden and nothing is planned?

I know my mother has already chosen the musics she wants played and her funeral. She is right. I know I will find comfort in listening to what she chose for us.

Nathalie said...

Correction : I know my mother has already chosen the musics she wants played AT her funeral.

Madeleine Vedel said...

Thank you Nathalie, it is no doubt an odd thing to reflect upon a person and a culture's way of mourning, but it is both terribly personal, and quite other. And, these days, it seems I'm attending more funerals than weddings... aging in a culture that I've quite adopted, but where every once in a while I hit a wall. Delighted your mother has chosen her music! Interesting to contemplate, no?