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My Mother, Going and Gone

June 6, 2001

Tall bearded El Greco Alexander the Greek from the Russian Cathedral comes to see my little bird Blanche Mamie, anoints her with holy oil and prays with her, the prayers for those about to depart. He asks her first if she wants a prayer. She says, "I would like that very much". Her sunken eyes open wide when she looks at him and she keeps a tight hold on his hand. Everything dissolves in me when I look at her, all my words, my art, my theories desert me. There is only the ebbing life in this little woman who gave birth to me, the beautiful Blanche now transformed into Juliette, her mother. She looks and sounds like her. I cannot bear her misery, "I am so miserable" she says, stripped of everything that was her self. But the strength and the dignity are still there, she is a fighter. Her eyes are so strange, turned inwards, glazed, the eyes of the dying or of saints. What is happening inside that little head, skull-like, her beautiful smooth unlined skin stretched over the bones? How does the soul leave the body? What does it take for that last link to be broken and the other journey to begin?

June 19, 2001

It's got to the point where I'm praying for God to take her, rescue her from this prolonged torture. Not physical pain but being on the edge, almost gone, coming back, then going again. Seeing things, visions, her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. Making these strange sounds, railing, sometimes a croak or a rumble and then suddenly the sweetest smile. A couple of days ago she looked at me, called me une adorable créature. Helpless love overwhelms me, paralyzes me with grief at the inevitable parting. I've lost all sense of who I am. I am only here, watching my beloved mother dying slowly, unfairly, straining to hear what she is saying, protecting her, snarling like a guard dog at anyone who may upset her.

August 19, 2001 (this entry written in retrospect on August 26, 2004)

I'm asleep on the living room sofa, A and the nurse are doing the night vigil in Mamie's room. About 7 am A nudges me awake and tells me Mamie is gone. I stumble into the bedroom and see that it is true - a cold body lies on the bed, not my mother. A boiling river of rage pours into my head and I want to scratch out A's and the nurse eyes: why didn't they wake me before, what time did she die (6 am), why did they let me sleep? " We wanted to let you sleep, you were so tired". Their solicitousness is a slap in my face, I feel it as censorship, jealousy. They didn't want me to share that last moment, her last breath. I am betrayed and a betrayer. I cannot put any of it into words, I kneel by the body of my mother and put my hand on her icy forehead.

August 27, 2001

My beloved Mamie is gone . I didn't cry at her funeral but now it comes over me in waves, in her room, sorting her clothes, sitting on her bed. Before the undertakers came to take her away I put her watch on her wrist, opening her stiff cold hand, waxy and so cold. I chose the clothes they would dress her in - the white polo neck shirt, the flower-pattern sleveless dress, the orange cardigan, her good blue and white shoes and around her neck, the lucky pendant Annie gave her. All dressed for the trip, going to school, so beautiful, youthful, innocent. I wanted to go with her at least part of the way, make sure she's allright. How could I let her go alone into that dark night?

Photo-bio of Blanche

Blanche (née Juré) d'Arbeloff. Born in Gentilly, France. Died in London, 19 August 2001