IMG_1474After a light post about provincial French street style, the pace changes. As fun as it is to watch views climb, I am not writing this  I cannot get another topic out of my head. It chases me in my dreams. It haunts my days. When, the other day, it jumped out at me from a podcast I was listening to, I decided I needed to face it head on. To unpack the thoughts.P1090767I am making a bed, with podcasts to keep my mind off the mundanity of the task at hand. Mindfulness is fine, but I would rather not be mindful of housework. Like exercise, it is not something I enjoy in the moment, but I do appreciate the benefits afterward. Perhaps I should lean in, and learn to appreciate the nuances of good hospital corners on a sheet, but I’d rather go through the motions while my mind is focused on current affairs or something like that. One of the good things about the Internet is that I can listen to anything anytime anywhere. IMG_1467While my podcast lineup leans heavily toward business, I also appreciate good wordsmiths, and The Moth has some of the best. I just had a good cry along with Anthony Griffith, who talked about how his mother was his hero. Now, I listen as Kate Tellers describes her mother’s decline from cancer. It’s clear how this story will end, and I brace myself. It will be a different cry from mom-as-hero. P1090844She talks about how the hospice has given them a booklet about the changes one’s body goes through as it closes up shop. And then she says she goes into the bedroom to find her mother up, saying she has to pack.

I fall to my knees. Kate Tellers gently tells her mom that she doesn’t need to pack for where she’s going. P1090805A couple of months before my dad died, he became loquacious. He never had any sign of dementia, but his stories became increasingly strange. He said he had bought a fishing resort (we checked–not true). He said he’d just talked to some relatives..who were dead. One day when I entered his room, and he informed me that the state patrol had been there to interview him about a murder. He didn’t know anything, he assured me, but as it happened down the road from his hunting cabin, they came to check. I thought he was nuts. Of course, the state patrol hadn’t been there. He mentioned a name, and I googled it. A guy with a similar name indeed had lived near the hunting cabin and was now living in prison–for murdering his wife.IMG_1471And then, he was all worked up about packing his bags. “Dad’s gotta get outta here, sweetie,” he told me. He always referred to himself in third person, as if “Dad” were a character he was playing, not quite the same as himself. Dad was stoic, tough, worked two jobs, shouldered the burdens for the family. He himself was shy and, I suspect, a little disappointed with his life, which turned out to be more full of setbacks than seemed fair for somebody who worked so hard and did everything everybody expected of him. IMG_5957I thought, at first, he was talking about getting out of the rehab facility, which was just a temporary measure until a hospice place opened up. He had been to that facility after surgery about a year earlier and hated it, though he clearly had come to change his mind and truly loved the staff. P1090765I mentioned it to one of them. Yes, he told me, your father keeps talking about packing his bags. It’s common among people who are about to die. The hallucinations were common as well. P1090845Kate Teller’s mother died soon after wanting to pack. My dad hung on for another two months. I was at his side when he died. My siblings had been taking turns spending the night in the armchair next to his bed. One day they called me: come now. I flew in immediately. On the second night, I took a turn in the armchair. I sometimes suspect my dad had been holding on not to disappoint my siblings. Always stoic.IMG_1469Listening to the end of the podcast, I sit on the floor and sob. It’s been several years since my parents died, my mom just three weeks after my dad, yet not a day goes by that I don’t miss them. I am glad I got to be at their sides and to tell them I loved them. They were generous in telling us they loved us, too. My dad would always say, “I love you more!” with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

I wipe my eyes and text my kid: I love you.

My kid texts back: I love you more!

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Photos of spring from around here. The circle of life.

53 thoughts on “Unpacking Packing

  1. Losing a parent is a loss like no other. No matter your age you feel orphaned. You’re suddenly the grownup. When my Dad died unexpectedly, I took great comfort that the last words we said to each other were, “I love you”. You can never say it often enough. ❤️

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    1. We knew it was coming—my parents were old. It still is hard. I don’t know how people cope with sudden loss, when they can’t say goodbye. I suppose it makes it all the more important to say I love you often.

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  2. So interesting that your post today was about your father. Corey Amaro at French La Vie also had a post about her dad, which brought back memories of mine. Your post kept my eyes moist. Our family was with dad when he took his last breath. His last few days were ones of expressing our love for each other as yours were. How blessed we all were.
    I enjoy your posts, and hope to get your area of France one of these years.

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  3. This is a generous piece that has to wring the heart of everyone, myself included. I had lost my mother, father, older brother, younger brother by the time I was 35 & only had the chance to say goodbye to mom & dad. It’s been so many years ago but my tears are always just below the surface.

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    1. Oh, how I love and relate to your sentence….. my tears are always just below the surface! Yes and YES! Me too; sometimes so much so that I feel I should be ashamed …. then I think ‚NO, this is how I feel and if somebody should be irritated or holding me for an uncontrolled fool, so be it‘.

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  4. Bittersweet post. I can relate — it’s been 30 years since my mom passed and I still think of her all the time. I guess that’s how we grieve, in waves. So lovely your son carries on your Dad’s tradition.

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  5. I cannot tell you how important and relevant this humble, beautiful post is. It started with my admiration of those stark and strong pictures, the flecks of colour and light, the kept in/out people behind or in front of the closed portal…. then your words. I do the same when I wash, change, clean after my guests (I am sadly not making any money, it‘s just a labour of love for my visitors who are friends), I view YTube videos, political stuff, but also ‚les belles choses‘ such as performances of concerts, dance, documentaries, OR I listen to podcasts – and it‘s true, it makes the chores less but it also leaves me more than ample time to have my own thoughts, meanderings, memories and my father is visiting me often too. I don‘t recall his ‚packing‘ but we had similar tales before he passed away. When I phone my mother and ask how she is, she says: Every morning when I awake and I‘m still here, I just ask my Maker to give me the strength and joy to get through another day… No sign of packing yet either. Gives me hope, somewhat! But for her sake, we would also wish for her just to not awake one morning.
    And YES, I say it often, to my beloved ones: I love you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. In Kenya, one of my students, with a sincere and big heart, wished me a peaceful death. I thought it odd but later appreciated the sentiment.
      Check out the beautiful interview of the Met conductor, Yannick, with Terry Gross on Fresh Air

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      1. Could you send me a link. Can‘t seem to get any of those indications, also the Kate Tellers podcast doesn‘t work on my iPad. Sorry to bother you but I‘m interested 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I subscribe to The Moth on iTunes and listen with my iPad, which is, I think, the second generation. Really old. The link is in the post–click on the words The Moth. There are I think 4 segments, all good, and Kate Teller is the last.
          I’ve been a devoted fan of Terry Gross and Fresh Air since around 1980, if not before, listening on NPR. I am SO grateful for the Internet and podcasts, which allow me to continue to listen here in France. Her interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin is just wonderful. He sounds like a truly lovely person, and what he says about working with others is such a revelation. I think you will enjoy it, plus there are musical interludes. Here’s the link. There’s a big red play button on the left. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/04/709455404/for-conductor-yannick-n-zet-s-guin-making-music-is-like-a-religious-call

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          1. I work with Yannick at the Met, and I can tell you, he is every bit as lovely as Terry’s interview indicates. Detailed oriented in his work, he inspires us to do our best. Out going, generous and funny, he has brought a joy to my workplace that has been missing for a bit. All that and he is stinkin’ adorable, too. Follow him on Instagram @nezetseguin

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            1. Wow! What a joy it must be to work with such a sweet and brilliant person. Too often, leaders who are jerks are celebrated, as if their bad behavior were proof of their genius. It is so important to see someone who is a genius AND nice. And to hear that it isn’t just for show in an interview but in real life.

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  6. There certainly is no easy way to deal with the death of a loved one. Of my parents, Pa died first. I didn’t think I could ever feel so sad as I felt then but then my youngest son died in a car accident -incomparable pain and anger then. When Ma was in the hospital at the end she didn’t talk about packing but she asked me the strangest questions, “Did I kill those babies?” “No Ma you didn’t kill any babies.” “Did I kill my father?” “No Ma you didn’t kill Gramps.” “Did I kill your father?” “No Ma you didn’t kill Pa” It was so difficult hearing her ask all those things. A short time later I said to her that if it was time for her to go she should do so and not worry about anything, I’d take care of everything and that I loved her. That was late in the evening. She died very early in the morning after that. One of my thoughts after her death was that now there was no one on earth who loved me (and my brother) more than life itself.

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    1. Dear Candace,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. As hard as it is to lose one’s parents–as you say, no one on earth loves us more–losing a child is unthinkable. I’m sending you virtual hugs, but that doesn’t change the pain.

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  7. Your truths on passing, juxtaposed with amazing photography, are rare and lovely. I cannot see a peacock and not think of my mother, or gaze on a tulip and not be reminded of my husband’s mother. Tonight you’ve made me think of both without seeing either. Thank you. ❤

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  8. My dad died more than 25 years ago in his sleep at age 73, it was a shock. Thankfully I had spent the weekend with him and that gives me comfort. My mom lived much longer to age 89 and died 5 years ago. It pains me that I wasn’t with her, we were very close. She became very frail but was still sharp as a tack. The last few years were very painful for her, but hardly ever a complaint. I’m very thankful for having her for so long, but would have let her go sooner so she wouldn’t have had all the pain.
    As someone else said in an earlier reply, no one will ever love you like your parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. such a beautiful and moving post. We’re all gathering around the knowledge that we will soon be saying good-bye to a loved one, and I know we’re all thinking about the loss of our mother, our father before her, and before that my younger brother. . . “I love you” and “I love you back” is a sweet way to honour those lost loved ones. . . Take care. . .

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  10. A beautiful post. And it made me cry. Because of circumstances, I was not able to be there when my father died unexpectedly, nor when my mother died, more expectedly, several years later. I still feel that keenly and likely always will.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely post. I, too, think of my folks every day though it’s been 9 and 10 years since they passed away. That has become a somewhat familiar feeling, but my brother’s passing just a little over 5 months ago has really thrown me. Not on the outside, but on the inside, still and always, I think. We were a small, tight-knit original family and never missed an opportunity to express out love — and my brother and I carried that forward into our own families.
    Our oldest daughter, who is a nurse and had been working as a manager in NY VNA and Hospice, has recently switched to being a floor nurse in a palliative care unit. I think the experience of being with my brother, with our whole families, at the end affected her profoundly. I will definitely ask her about the packing urge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those who work in hospice, palliative care and with the elderly in general are true angels. They are underpaid and underappreciated by society at large, even though the families they help appreciate them enormously.

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  12. So true. My mother-in-law has dementia and is constantly packing bags which we then unpack….until the next time. And the hallucinations have mostly stopped now but were very real, very disturbing when she was living alone. Such a strange time in their lives and ours too.

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  13. This is so wrenching to read, and reminds me of two things I read just a week ago. The first was in the anthology “The Best American Essays 2015,” and the essay “Thing with feathers that perches in the soul” was gorgeously constructed and heavy with the mist and potency of passing generations.

    More specifically related to what you just posted, included in the same anthology and originally published in Tin House, by Tiffany Briere, is “Vision.” It is about family lore and superstition and watching an aging parent in pain as she approaches the end. It’s a beautiful and interesting and ultimately uplifting piece of writing, and I recommend it.

    Both of my parents died some time ago, and unexpectedly, my father all too young and still full of vitality and health, in a car accident. And my mother, equally unexpectedly, in a rocking chair watching television, the result of a heart strangled by obesity. Although she had reached her 70s, she too was much too young and her mind too vibrant to go.

    I have never known which is worse – a slow goodbye and all of the burdens that go with that, or no opportunity for goodbye at all. Both challenge the best in us as the grieving process returns at moments in waves, even when we think it is done.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is true that we do not get to choose how we will leave this life. But how wonderful that we get to choose how we shall be in this life, in each moment!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. MY MOTHER WANTED “TO GET UP”
    Off the bed or to HEAVEN?I will never know………….it haunts me to this day!Which has turned OUT HORRIFICALLY!!OH PARIS………….I took my BOYS there to THAT CHURCH and the LINE WAS SO LONG WE DIDNOT GET IN!!!!!!WHY DIDN’t I GO BACK??
    IT was a busy week………..and NOW MY SONS HAVE NEVER BEEN INSIDE!
    I’m afraid to turn the TV on……..its ALL over INSTAGRAM!
    BREAKS MY HEART as I IMAGINE IT WILL BREAK YOURS!!!!!!!
    XX

    Liked by 1 person

  15. oh wow. I am just now reading this, as I am preparing to go spend time with my 91 year old dad. His stories are getting more and more fanciful, with him in the staring role as the put upon mistreated hero of the day. Clearly, he is working thorough something and trying to take control of his uncontrollable decline. When he starts talking about packing for a back-packing trip, (he was a great hiker in his prime) I’ll know it’s time. He is facing humanity’s biggest mystery and Christianity’s greatest promise. It’s an awesome thing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. What is so interesting to me is that Dad was a minister, and has (had?) deep deep faith. I really thought (and so did he) that when he got to this point in his life, he would be excited to see what is next, to discover the truth, finally. But instead, he is sad. As my husband said, in the end, everyone is afraid of the dark.
        Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful post.

        Liked by 1 person

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