Nov 20, 1923-March 22, 2014
My mother, Solange Josephine Henriette Peron, was as French as the French come. She loved her country and was miserable living anywhere else in the world. Yet, as fate would have it when she was thirty years old, she met an au-pair girl who had just returned from England and for the strangest reason, decided to sell her little house, stop a decent job selling women’s items from door to door on her bicycle, and moved to London.
Finding that her money was quickly running out and realizing that a diet of toast and sugar (the only free items in every coffee shop) wasn’t the healthiest, she decided to teach French. This is how she met my journalist father, then working at the BBC, who had purchased ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ in French (the cheapest, heaviest book) that he could not read. They were soon married and then continued the international life she had never really wanted, at least not in the long run.
She was a stern mother, insisting on good education and making sure my sister and I developed the independence she had lost. Family games were always memory or counting games. We were encouraged to read, know our grammar, have impeccable spelling, learn languages, do sports and never be idle. Our television time was very limited and we never went to the movies, but our house was a creative hub. A very good portraitist herself, my mother made us draw, paint, write and play the piano. She was also passionate about nutrition and a hoarder.
After my father died, she started retreating within herself, barely going out, shutting the sun out of the rooms of her house and just spending hours daily on the phone with a select few friends, watching TV, reading voraciously and accumulating every advertisement that came in the mail.
She recognized herself more in my sister than in myself. I was more like my father, a citizen of the world. My sister was French, had been married to a French man, spoke just French and lived in France. After she was killed, my mother drowned in a deep depression that she never recovered from. I had the repeated dream that she was shivering cold. I thought it was symbolic until I visited her and realized that her heater had exploded and, too proud to complain (her whole life she had prided herself on being Super Woman), she was dealing with the bitter mountain winter wrapped in tons of blankets.
In an epic journey across France, I took her to a better climate by the ocean and organized her new life so that she would be surrounded by neighbors who could keep an eye on her, while I had to continue working around the world. A few months later she started complaining about pain in her stomach and was brought in emergency to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It was too advanced already and she was too old to consider chemotherapy. The doctors told me that her 90 years’ long life was coming to an end.
The last few weeks, which could have been months - nobody knew, I stopped everything to stay with her. I slept in her hospital room and spent my days playing scrabble with her (her favorite game of all times). For the first time of my life, I had the mother I had always dreamed of and given up on. She was sweet, lost and grateful, the opposite of what she had been her whole life. The pain she was in, was just horrendous. She looked like she was pregnant with five pairs of twins, she could neither eat, drink, nor go to the bathroom. Syringes and tubes kept her barely alive. She wanted to die, but believing in nothing, and despite everything I told her trying to reassure her, she was afraid of The Big Journey.
The final night was the worst. It was 3 AM, when she experienced such horrible agony that in loss and desperation, I frantically called the nurses, the doctors, whoever might be able to help. One male nurse, grabbing my wrists, pushed me against the wall and looked me in the eyes, and said: “Now, YOU listen. She has ½ hour left to live. Are you ready to let her go? YES or NO?”. Of course, I wasn’t ready. One never is. But I knew I had to. She HAD to go. For her sake. Her suffering was too great.
She chose the moment when all the commotion was calming down and the nurses had left the room, to die in my arms. Repeating through my tears that I loved her, I didn’t even realize right away that her soul had left her body, until I noticed that, motionless, she was staring at a point on the wall, her eyes and mouth opened in such great surprise, that I knew my father had come to welcome her to the other side.
I had arrived too late for my father, and I had not been there for my sister’s passing, but I had vowed I would help my mother. Despite the tragic events of that intense night, I was happy to have been able to see her through her transition. I rarely feel her, just once when she thanked me, saying that my presence had helped accelerate her evolution into the afterlife. She had needed to hear just one thing before she could die. That was that she had been a good mother. May she rest in peace.