Friday, September 23, 2011

Ocean sands and glowing candles

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I returned from France. Actually, I was in a funk before I went to France… so much so that I didn’t even write about the fact that I was going to France in the first place.

So first things first- I went to France about a month ago.

The trip came up somewhat on the spur of the moment. My friend Viviane grew up in France and still has family there. She needed to make a trip home, and asked if I’d like to go with her. Umm…. That was a hard question to answer. Ha!

So off we went for a whirlwind 19 days. The trip was upon us so quickly; I didn’t even have much of a chance to freak out about the flight. Well, at least not as much as I usually do. At least not enough that Viviane would realize just how neurotic a friend she’d chosen to take with her. I do try to keep the crazy to a minimum.

It was definitely the trip of a lifetime. And a tiring one- we traveled from Paris to her mom’s house, then headed to the coast for three days. Back to her mom’s house for a few days, then headed to Southern France on a four day adventure, then to Paris for the remaining four days of the trip. In 19 days I was able to put my toes in the English Channel, and then in the Atlantic Ocean. We waded in rivers in Southern France, and drove through mountain roads. We walked in the ruins of centuries-old castles, and got lost along the Route de la Noix. (The Road of the Nuts. I thought that was appropriate!) I stood under the Eiffel Tower, put my feet on the spot that marks Paris’s coordinates, and managed to navigate the Paris subway system. We even ventured into a cave in Southern France. I can honestly say that I have seen France from the inside out.

And the food…. Ah, I think I am French at heart. Bread…. Cheese… wine… pastries… sigh. I’ve been home for two weeks and am still going through major pastry withdrawal. To my amazement, I actually lost a few pounds while I was there. I attribute that to all the walking. And we certainly walked A LOT. Americans are most definitely sedentary creatures. And also probably to the lack of fast food restaurants, and the on-the-go processed foods that we typically eat because we are in too much of a hurry to sit down and actually enjoy a meal. One of the most common questions I was asked was if I minded the amount of time spent at the table. On the contrary- it was a welcome change from grabbing a quick bite in front of the TV. And one of my favorite parts of the day was stopping for a coffee and pastry. Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoyed the pastries?

But a lack of baked goods is not what is causing my funk. Although I’m thinking that an éclair and au café would probably do my blue mood a world of good.

No, my problem is the same old story. I miss my sister. I spent an incredible two and a half weeks in France, and all the while, I missed Emily something terribly. Not in the overwhelmingly painful sad kind of missing her... but the “I wish she could be here” kind of missing. Which is an improvement of sorts, I suppose. I wasn’t miserable and depressed during the trip. I wasn’t despondent, and as I might have briefly stated, I was able to fully enjoy and indulge in my new found pastry habit. I laughed, I enjoyed the company and companionship with my best friend, I took a million photos, I had a wonderful time. I’m able to function without the overwhelming sense of loss and black despair.

Yet everything reminded me of her. From the interaction between Viviane and her two sisters, to the amazing sights I wished I could have shared with Emily, and all the pretty things (and presents!) that she would have loved- she was a constant in my thoughts.

I wrote her name in the sand along the coast of St. Malo at the edge of the English Channel, and in the sands of Cap Ferret on the Atlantic shore. The ocean reminds me of Emily more than any place in the world. And even though her name has long since been swept out with the tides, it made me feel like a little piece of her was with me, even for just a few fleeting moments.

When I went to Poland a couple years ago, I lit a candle for Emily in one of the cathedrals. Though I’m not Catholic, it was my little way of letting her know that I was thinking of her. Of letting her know that somewhere, her light is shining. So during this trip, I lit one for her in a cathedral in Bordeaux, and of course- the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I had a hard time finding a place to light one in Notre Dame. For one thing- it’s HUGE. Pictures certainly do not do it justice. And there were little alcoves honoring all kinds of Saints everywhere. Obviously not being Catholic, most of the areas that were set up for the candles didn’t hold much significance for me. I didn’t really want to light a candle for my sister in just any place I could find, I wanted to find the “right” spot. Something not as… “Catholic-y”, as irreverent as that sounds. And to further test my lack of decision-making skills, it was a rather gloomy cathedral. Most of the alcoves were dark and depressing. I was just about to give up, when I happened upon an area dedicated to St. Genevieve, who was a patron saint of children. Right away, it made me think of Emily- she was really good with kids. It also had the prettiest and brightest stained glass window- in blues and greens. I got an “Emily-vibe” as I stood there. I think she would have liked that one. And so… Emily had a light burning there too.

But oh, how I still miss her! I think about the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, and the places that I’ve been able to go… and I still feel an underlying sense of guilt because she’s not here. Why her? Why not me? And I know there’s no point in asking those kinds of questions, because there’s not a thing I can do about it. My feeling guilty is not going to bring her back. But feelings do not listen to reason, and my feelings happen to belong to one of the most obstinate people on the face of the earth. All I know is that even in the writing her name in the sands and in the glow of the candles I’ve lit- my heart still aches with her absence. It’s abated somewhat over time. But it’s still there. And I suppose it always will be.

So where do I go from here? I don’t know. I simply do not have the answers, and I don’t know where to find them. I just get so tired of the cycle of embracing grief and letting go, only to have it turn tail and head right back for me. I tire of having the highs of a wonderful experience tempered by the shadow of Emily and the loss of her. It’s wearying. I see signs of light at the end of the tunnel, only to find that I’ve run into another dark curve and the light has disappeared.

I need a brighter flashlight.

And a pastry.
Perhaps two.

But ultimately I want the one thing that I cannot have…I want my sister back.


terri said...

i wish i had something helpful to say. i'm out here reading and caring...and wishing i could say the right thing to you....i'm passing this blog on to a friend who lost her son.i want to remind her she's not alone...thanks for being out there.

Merry ME said...

Oh MIssy,
Joy and sadness are two faces of the same coin, aren't they? I think your feelings are spot on. How could you not miss Emily when experiencing something so lovely. I wish I had the words or wisdom to help send your blues packing. I love that you found the perfect spots to write her name and light her candle. It says to me she is right there with you. When you breathe in, she visits your heart. When you need the light she is in the flickering flame.

It's only words, and words are all I have to take away this pain. ( A small twist on an old BeeGee's song!)

AkasaWolfSong said...

Oh Precious Heart...

Do you think your Beloved would want you to feel guilty because you remain here and continue to live on? No Melissa...but I do know how you feel. I've lost both parents, my grandparents, my son, many cousins, Aunts and Uncles and just three weeks ago another cousin. I have felt guilty about this last death just as I have many of them, that maybe I could have done more, been there more, but the truth of it is, my path and journey took me on a different road and I've come to realize it just isn't healthy to hold on to could have, should have, would have. The grief remains, and always will, I will deal with each moment as they come and hope I learn to compartmentalize it, make sense of it, and live it better.

I will keep you in my prayertime Melissa...and send you loving, healing thoughts and energy.

Your vacation in France sounds superb! I just recently traced my 7th Great Grandfather from there...Ancetre' Gause'. I think from St. Martin? He was born in 1580...I would love to visit and retrace some of his footsteps. I think it very important to treasure the family stories of our loved this way we bring them much honor as well as honoring ourselves in the process.

And still the seasons change as does everything in life my friend...I hope for many bright and shining days for you!