Monday, November 10, 2014

Death at a distance


           Death at a physical distance not the way our Western society seems to hold death (and many other unpleasant things) at an emotional distance, something to be shut away, not mentioned and certainly not acknowledged in many cases: that in itself would make a blog.

The latest of these came when a good acquaintance passed away suddenly last Wednesday in Southern France.  I call her a good acquaintance out of respect as I am not sure that I can claim her as a good friend: we only met some ten years ago; she lived a seven-hour train drive away and over the years I probably only saw her a half-dozen times on trips to visit my housemate. That being said I always spent time with her during those trips be it having coffee or tea in her home, or out, having a meal together, laughing over many things, talking about Africa (she had spent time in Burkina Faso as had my oldest son) and looking over her books (she sold used books in English to the local expat community: she was also a seamstress and I had her make me two summer dresses at one point). I was there to celebrate her 75th – and met two of her daughters. Our most recent meeting was just this past summer and my brightest memory the evening four of us women had “girl’s night in”, i.e. popcorn, champagne and DVD’s – although we had so much to talk and laugh about that we never got to the DVDs as I recall.

I had to first process the shock – and didn’t write at all for several days – however as has been my want since childhood, things have to be written for me to integrate them.

Barbara’s death brought back all those others that happened at great physical distances (one of the downsides – and there really aren’t many – of living far from family is the distance needing to be bridged during crises).

The first for me was my mother-in-law in 1975: she had a stroke just days after having returned home from visiting us and we were not able to get there to see her in the hospital for three weeks (three very long weeks!). When we did, we saw her in the evening in the hospital and she passed away that night. The next was my favorite aunt in 1980: I was extremely fortunate in that my mother was able to tell me when to come and I was able to see her in the late afternoon before she passed away that night. My father fell, broke his hip, had a stroke then passed away from pneumonia all within the space of 10 days in 1998 (and as he was on the mend no one made it to see him). Although I was undergoing chemotherapy at the time I was able to be there for his funeral.  Shortly thereafter, it was the death of my husband: a good friend took me to the hospital in the middle of the night to see him one last time – we had been visiting him in ICU the week that he was in a coma due to a lung hemorrhage and before that in the hospital whilst he went through the process for a heart transplant.  Closing my own personal litany of deaths was that of my little sister in September of 2012. That was the only one where I actually had the privilege of being with her as she rendered her last breath although I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the whole of the USA.

Interestingly enough – of all of them, hers was the easiest, perhaps because I was physically present or perhaps because she suffered the most over the three years that the disease progressed.

In any case, death at a distance becomes very close and one needs closure so I will be traveling down to be with the villagers (she was an icon as on top of the used-English book store and alterations or the making of clothes, she also was in the Gospel choir and knew literally everyone), her daughters and her friends as we celebrate (the mourning will be done in private) her life this coming weekend.

R.I.P Barbara – you were loved and your death only creates a bit more distance than usual in between us.

Always a twinkle in her eye!