On the 19th of August thirteen years ago my mother, Blanche Augustine d'Arbeloff, departed this planet very early in the morning. I was asleep on the living room sofa while my sister and a nurse kept watch in her room. My sister woke me later, I don't know when, to tell me that Mamie was gone. I went in the bedroom and saw, touched, her cold forehead and icy hands. I remember being on fire with rage, a rage deeper than desolation, that they didn't wake me, didn't let me share her last breath, hold her hand. 'We didn't want to wake you, you were so tired'. The rage is still there when I think of that moment but it's outside of me now, like a photograph in an album.
On Tuesday this week I went to the cemetery where my mother
and father are buried together. Sacha left in 1996, aged 101. Blanche
stayed with us another five years, until she was ninety-seven. Here they
are both in Los Angeles, way back in time, with no thoughts of
There is peace and quiet and pure, unadulterated bird song in
the park of graves but the ground is heaving under the weight, the
responsibilty of all those loved bones, their names, their dates, their
histories, their roles. It's too much for some of the old stones, the
angels, the monuments, they're leaning over, exhausted. Brand new graves
are cheerful with bright plastic flowers, big sparkly cushioned
lettering:"GRANNY", "JOE", "MUM". Every inch of the ground beneath my
feet is packed with bones which were once persons, personalities, like
Blanche, like Sacha, like me. And one day (not too soon, God willing) my
bones, the material part of me, will be buried somewhere and somebody,
perhaps, will post my photo on their blog and write something in
remembrance of me, the "me" that they knew.
I wrote about my mother previously here and here and some of the paintings she did in the last few years of her life are shown here. The photo below was taken at her exhibition in the Mary Ward Centre in London the year before she died.
I picked the next photo out of the many that I have because
it shows Blanche's beautiful legs that I was always envious of. It was
taken at my parents' flat in London in 1983. Youthfulness was one of her
many qualities, one that age never took away. Once, I asked her what
she was thinking and she said, "Je chante" (I'm singing).
And below is the look she had a few months before her death, a
searching, looking into Somewhere Else. The same look she had when
she sat bolt upright in bed, seeing something no one else could see, and
said: "Je dois prendre ma place" (I must take my place).