Thursday, August 21, 2014


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 mortality.

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).


marja-leena said...

Beautiful parents, I know we always miss our parents even years after they have gone. You were blessed that they had very long lives (mine did not). Hugs anad take care, Natalie.

Dave said...

I think I've been to that cemetery. My condolences.

Lucy said...

Lovely picture of your parents together, a sunlit moment. Their longevity would indicate you too should live a long and always fruitful life, and you're right, your mother did have very good legs!

Thank you for sharing these things.

Tom said...

I am finding it difficult to get on the same wavelength as you, Natalie,because I have never regretted my parents' deaths; neither have I missed them. Yet there was one thing you brought our attention to, which caught a little in my throat, and it wasn't about the past, from your mother's perspective; it was about her future.

"......a searching, looking into Somewhere Else.......Je doit prendre ma place."

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, touching post Natalie, we're very fortunate that are brought into the world by loving parents, it makes it all the harder when they go I suppose but your bond with your mum shines through your writing and pictures, lovely x

Catalyst/Taylor said...

A beautiful couple. You were so lucky to have them for so long. My mother died when I was 13, my father when I was 40.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Marja-Leena, it's sad that your parents didn't live longer but I'm sure they must have contributed to the finely-tuned, creative and caring person that you are.

Dave, thanks. Yes, you've been to that cemetery and written very well about it. It's a strangely beautiful place.

Lucy, glad you agree about the legs! It's apparently irrelevant things like that which, for me, make remembered images so vivid and lasting.

Tom, yes,there was no doubt in my mind or in my heart that my mother was actually seeing a Somewhere Else in that moment but I wouldn't presume even to imagine what it might be. One day perhaps I'll see it.

Phil, I am indeed grateful for having had those particular parents. Not that it was always an ideal relationship (is there such a thing?) but love certainly played the major role.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Bruce, I'm so sorry that your parents left you so early in life. But it seems you've made up for it by being a good parent yourself, right?

Ellena said...

Heartwarming memories.
And, she did take her place and chose not to take it in your presence.

My Mom kept whimpering to me "please let me die", in hospital, for weeks, and decided to take her place the day my brother and my niece came from far to sit with her.

Hattie said...

What strikes me is that your mother, at what would be approximately my present age, was wearing high heeled shoes. She must have been formal and correct as well as proud of those beautiful legs.
The last photo is powerful. I don't think I've ever seen quite that expression.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, since I was only in the next room, it did upset me a lot that my sister didn't wake me earlier. But as you say, my mother must have chosen her time to go. I'm so sorry that your Mom had to suffer such a long delay before taking her place.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, my Mama was not in the least formal or 'correct'. She was just French! Always wanted to look her best, even in very old age. Unlike me, she was never a sneakers and jeans person - didn't dislike them at all but felt it wasn't her style.

Beth said...

Oh, dear Blanche! I feel that I've come to know her at least a little through your loving remembrances. My mother also had great legs, and I noticed them right before her death, when my father was helping her get up - I remember thinking, "her legs are still so beautiful!" Odd, the things that strike us...I love that photo of your mother looking so elegant, and also the last one, where she seems to stare right through us into the Beyond. I'm sorry your family didn't wake you -- these are the errors of omission or ignorance that we must try not to make with others. xxoo

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Beth, I wish you had met her, I know you both would have got on famously. I've never known anyone quite like her, and not just because she happened to be my mother.

Yes, those physical characteristics that stay in our memories...I love looking at photos in family albums, including other people's, to try and pin down what those looks are saying.