Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir

I have been back home one month today.  Rich Paris memories are still being savored.  London has recovered from a somewhat critical review in comparison to the City of Light…unfair I guess.  My global citizenship has been enriched and the proof is stamped in my passport. 

I have a deepening appreciation for the French culture. Their self-direction and joie de vivre (joy for life) inspires meI think I better understand London’s struggle to hold on to their proper, somewhat stodgy traditions while being inundated with immigrants from places built in sand.

My mind has been expanded, and I like knowing it won’t ever return to its original dimensions. Plus, smack in the middle of being amazed, inspired, renewed, and exalted, I accidentally learned more about myself.

Since my return to reality (something similar to the thud of Dorothy’s spinning house landing on the Wicked Witch of the East), I have longed to share the details and discoveries of this adventure with Mom.  Her absence feels once again like the big, monstrous void.

Mom was my touchstone. She knew where I came from. After all, Cove is a place too small to even be called a hamlet.  But she also understood how far away your dreams can take you, and how brave you have to be to follow them.  I think she would be proud of me.  I know she shared some of my longing to see more of the world.

In 2008, after my first trip to Paris, it was Mom who wanted to hear every detail.  Even though her health struggles were only beginning, I saw them as temporary, and promised her that once she was feeling better, we would go back….together.  I knew that once she saw Paris, she would fall in love as I did.


This trip, standing at the Musee d’Orsay admiring the paintings of Renoir that Mom loved so much (like the one above), I ached for her to be there beside me and I fought back tears for all I know will never be. 

It is too late to share the world with her now.  The stories I saved to tell only her will have to remain tucked away in my heart.  I carry her dreams though and her unfulfilled wanderlust…

I believe that in every new place I find myself, part of Mom is there with me.



The Love Lock and Au Revoir

Pont des Art bridge and the view
People from all over the world come to the Pont des Art bridge to leave their love lock, and symbolically, a little piece of themselves in Paris.  For pedestrians only, the bridge links the Institut de France and the central square of the Louvre.  On one side, you see Notre Dame rising from its own little island on the Seine.  From the other, you see the top of the Eiffel tower…..perfect. 
Locks Everywhere
Ron and I had long planned to bring our own lock here to add to this unique display.  We chose to come here yesterday (our last) and say goodbye to the city we love.  
We sent off weeks ago to order our lock and have it engraved.  My sister April then used her artistic talents to add angel’s wings to each side, making it even more personal.
OUR lock in its new home
To insure our two keys would sink to the bottom of the river, we attached them to a small silk pouch carrying three polished rocks lovingly gathered at the beach during an unforgettable trip to the Oregon coast.  My Dad, Aunt Judy and Uncle Kay will understand why.
After another memorable visit to surely one of the world’s most picturesque and lively cities, we have hopefully become a bit more French.   We learned to slow down to soak in the beauty and history that surrounded us.  
We lingered over drinks and long meals, savoring the wine and food prepared with pride and perfection.  We took in the art at Musee d’Orsay (their logo is just M’O…love that) of Renoir, Van Gogh and Monet.  We walked for miles…to neighborhoods all over the city, and rode the Metro and RER trains like pros.  
Ron on our balcony at the hotel
We spoke French whenever we met someone new, appreciating that the French don’t do anything until proper greetings have been exchanged.  
And we couldn’t have custom-ordered more beautiful spring weather in which to enjoy it all…. cloudless sunny days and sparkling cool nights.

A few months ago, our French teacher George told us that after living in Paris for over 10 years, his children (several who were born there) live in a constant state of homesickness.  When in Paris, they miss America.  When in America, they miss Paris.  
We know how they feel, and will always be a little homesick for the romance we left behind.  It is appropriate then to use the French farewell, as au revoir means literally: au, till the + revoir, seeing again.
This is what Ron and I will long to do.

Note:  To find our love lock, follow the Seine west from Fontaine San Michel.  At the Pont des Arts bridge, walk North to the 3rd lamppost looking east to Notre Dame.  It is locked near the bottom of the 4th vertical pole of the wire fence, an equal distance between the 3rd and 4th lamppost….we encourage you to add your own!

Paris Redux

Loitering at the Louvre
We came back to immerse ourselves once again in this place we love.  Our affair with the City of Light began 3 1/2 years ago, when a too-brief trip only whetted our appetites for all yet to be discovered in this country so far from home.  
The goal of our trip:  to become temporary locals by taking the road less traveled with little agenda.  We wanted to be free to explore; to do whatever we felt moved to do whenever we wanted to do it….this is the Empty Nester’s Nirvana! 
Of course, there are some places that called to us again.  The Louvre is possibly our favorite place in the entire city.  When I.M Pei decided to build three ultra-modern glass pyramids in the courtyard of this mammoth 12th century palace, former home of the Sun King, he elevated this international treasure into an architectural masterpiece.
The stark contrast is breath-taking, and it’s easy to see why people are drawn here.  We went back to see some things we missed the first time….gorgeous marble sculptures and the opulent apartment of Napoleon III. Oh, the soirees that must have been held in those rooms!  I could come back to see the art here again and again…..

The Courtyard at Dusk
Everyone is drawn to the La dame de fer, the iron lady built to welcome the world  to the Exposition Universelle, a World’s Fair marking the centennial celebration of the French Revolution.  Three hundred workers, 18,000 pieces of wrought iron, all held together by two and a half million rivets…it is inspiring to stand under and look up into the perfection of design,
The Eiffel tower feels almost like a holy pilgrimage for us.   Surrounded by acres of grass, water fountains and cannons (we finally saw them fire), Ron says he can’t believe how people flock to see a structure that doesn’t do anything… just stands there.  But it feels like the pulse of Paris lives here, and we could not imagine staying away.

We knoshed like the French do on a hot dog gratine (french baguette, pig, and cheese…OMG) and stayed until dark to gasp with the crowd when the tower turned gold with light.  

Thanks Trevi Tripod!
The Night Show
Ron and 10,000 of his newest friends
Tomorrow, we are off to London on the morning train through the Chunnel.  We are anxious to see the sights of this summer’s Olympic City.  We will be paying homage to our generation by crossing Abbey Road.  Heeding the advice of three Englishmen we met at a pub last night, we will hopefully find some acceptable (to Ron, at least) Fish n Chips…
As our new Brit friend sang,  Oh, the Good Life…”

Doublay de Jour

See the zombies in this picture? The two jet-lagged dorks who are wandering through one of the liveliest sections of Paris?  You won’t find us in this pic, but we were there, hunched  over the BEST hot, French-onion soup ever made, trying to remember who we are and how we really got here.  
Hey, if you have ever stayed awake for 24+ hours, you know what I am talking about…
It all started for us on Wednesday afternoon.  After boarding the 6:00 p.m. non-stop flight to Paris (love this Delta hub city!) Ron and I entered some strange time warp, a portal to the European Traveler’s Twilight Zone!
Night enveloped us at 37,000 feet somewhere over Greenland, The oldest team of flight attendants I have ever seen (how much seniority do they need to be working the Paris non-stop?) controls the lighting and orders everyone to lower their window shade…they tell us it is so they can show the THREE back-to-back movies we have already seen while frenetically serving complimentary beverages, dinner, snacks, water, snacks, more water, breakfast, more water….and I am supposed to sleep????
After hours of repeated seat-shifting, pillow-folding and, uh ZERO sleep, I check my phone to see it is 2:00 a.m….fantastic! All of a sudden, some dumb-ass rebel defies the flight-attendant Nazis and lifts his window shade (gasp)…the blinding sunshine floods in! It’s 9:00 a.m.????  WHAT?  Seven hours gone…..phhhhhhht!  

It’s Thursday.

We arrive at Charles De Gaulle in a fog.  Herded like sheeple (baaaaa) we march with the other scare-haired, unwashed masses through customs and then on to baggage claim.  Now we trek through the longest terminal on earth to the RER train terminal to Paris.  
Can you imagine how worldly and super-cool Ron and I feel when we emerge from the bowels of the dilapidated, puke-smell train station onto one of the busiest streets in Paris schlepping two huge soopcases, a Netbook, two backpacks and a neck pillow?  Hard to look cosmopolitan when  you are this lost, trust me.  Standing in front of a huge map trying to decipher directions in a foreign language is pretty humbling.
Oh God, let’s just get to our well-researched boutique hotel, nestled on that quiet street recommended in all the reviews, and SLEEP!  But Oh Contraire!  The room we sent 50 e-mails arranging? Wrong room, not cleaned yet.  We have two other options on the 2nd or 6th floor, Not clean either….So sorry, je desole….merci fucking beaucoup!  We plop in the lobby and drink red wine as fast as the balding hotel manager can bring it to us.

Finally, we collapse in a room about the size of Andrea’s walk-in closet albeit with the European elegance we have learned to appreciate. Ron snores; I out-snore him.  We awake after a few hours to the dusk of Paris, and want to explore. We drag our muddled minds and asses onto the streets.  
The City of Light is stunning…. and then some.  It has its own smell, and we quickly tap in again to our love for its elegance and excitement.  (The women here are unpretentiously gorgeous and it is a fashion workshop walking among them).  We head for Notre Dame, not far from our hotel.  We breathe in the invigorating cool night air. 
Holding hands, we cross the Seine, walking through alleys filled with pubs, restaurants, souvenir shops, and architecture unlike anywhere else on earth.  We sit in front of one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals and watch young performers throw fire batons and blow flames high into the air.  People gather to applaud their skill and throw money into a hat.

On our walk back, a waiter beckons us into his cozy cafe and serves tureens of French Onion soup that warm us body and soul.  
We survived our “dooblay-day” and are already excited to see what tomorrow holds…

Messages from Mom

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Excerpts from Be Still My Soul

The day my Mom’s church choir sang this beautiful song she had requested for her funeral, I was barely listening. I was numb; trying to keep my composure as I was scheduled to speak after my brother’s eulogy. The words she loved so much were simply lost on me then.

But thanks to a conversation at our last family gathering, and a strong prompting from Mom, I was able to re-discover them and more importantly, share their promise and comfort with someone who really needed it.

As the conduit for her message, I would even receive confirmation. But only during a phone call, did I understand it all.

My brother Darren and I talk about music, and often share song lyrics and links to music videos we love. Especially since Mom’s death, it is the way we communicate where we are emotionally. Anger, regret, melancholy…it is all there in the music.

When he told me about a particular performance of Be Still My Soul by the BYU Men’s choir during a priesthood session several years ago, I saw everything in his eyes. He talked about the profound effect the music had on those fortunate enough to be in the hall that evening. But even though he had made several inquiries and searched the internet after that, he had never been able to find the recording or video.

On Monday morning, nine days after he told me about it, I came to work with this strong feeling that I must search for what had eluded my brother. I was surprised when within just a few minutes, I found this website:

Not only did it include the original recording (the words had been changed to paraphrase  Mormon scripture…2 Nephi: 4 and the name of the song changed to I Love the Lord) but the enthusiastic, grateful responses from people who had also been searching included the performance video from YouTube!  I promptly sent it to Darren. He wrote back to me in just a few minutes and was delighted, moved, and grateful.

Early yesterday morning, I rounded the corner in my subdivision to see a lone mourning dove standing in the road. Almost white in my headlights, it did not move. I slowed down and had almost come to a stop when it took flight toward me; wings fluttering up over the roof of my car.

Driving home last night, I phoned my brother in response to his text… “Had I listened to the song yet?” I knew he wanted to talk about it. With Mom’s quiet reserve, he told me how much he was hurting. He confessed he had spent much of the night before in tears, almost beside himself missing her.

Of her four children, Mom was closest to her only son. She and Darren spoke by phone daily. He came to depend greatly on her counsel and perspective. I have no doubt her unwavering devotion was a constant, empowering force.

Even my own loss seems to pale in comparison when I consider how intertwined the two of them were with each other’s daily lives.

We talked about the beautiful words to the original Be Still My Soul, and how “Mom” they are. He told me that he had been reading Mom’s old e-mails. During a particularly trying time a few years ago, she had sent him the lyrics to comfort and encourage him.

She was doing it again.

Reaching out to send messages of love she knew we would both understand.

Bonnie Rae’s Daughter

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I was driven mostly by grief. Something cataclysmic had happened to me and I needed an outlet for all the new, overwhelming feelings that accompanied my mother’s death. I wrote about things I often couldn’t say out loud. Over the months that followed, I kept writing and created a journal of life’s adventures and realizations.

And for months, I wrote nothing.

Today, on the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death, I want to write again. The memories of that day and the ones that followed are still painful. The burden of Mom’s prolonged struggle and the trauma of watching her take her last breath left me scarred and changed. Losing her altered the way the world feels. It left me with an identity crisis from which I have yet to recover.

I miss being Bonnie Rae’s daughter. I realize now how much I relished this role. The highs and lows of loving her and of being loved by her will never be matched. Being my mother’s oldest daughter with our history and drama is a bigger part of me than I ever acknowledged…so much of who I am. 

After 730 days without her, here are the things I am missing:

• Knowing she is in the world, doing her own thing 100 miles away

• Knowing she is waiting at the end of my excited, rock-and-roll blaring,
   very fast drives to Cache Valley

• Laughing with her and Dad at the kitchen table

• Talking with her for hours, sitting at each end of the comfy couch

• Her thankfulness and gratitude for every gift or kindness

• Her southern grace and reserve

• Her drop-everything-to-listen and be-with-you charm

• Her smell

• Her voice and the way she said my name

Now I am her.

I am the mother. And like her, I have three daughters…it is melancholy mothering déjà vu. Not surprising, I feel Mom’s spirit (and miss her most) when I am with my girls. They crave and seek my acceptance of their individuality. It insures that my relationship with each is unique and evolving…I love that. They energize me with their perspective and opinions. They make me think. They make me laugh. Being with them lifts me up.

I also secretly believe that some of their youthful beauty rubs off on me with every hug.

Like Mom did with me and my sisters, I sometimes can’t separate myself from my daughter’s struggles. I worry and hurt with and for them. And I am humbled by all the times my dramas sent Mom sprawling on her bed in tears.

Being a mother to daughters has helped me see Mom in a more compassionate, empathetic light. Parenting is hard. She never gave up trying to get it right, even though her childhood was filled with poverty, anger and desperation.

She used to tell me, “It is never too late to try again to do better.”

For all the remaining days that I am blessed to be a mother, I will cherish most what I learned from being Bonnie Rae’s daughter.

I miss you Mom….

Rising Above

There are so many conversations I wish I could have had with my Mother. By the time I realized the gravity of what was happening, she was no longer able to be in the present with me. She was already consumed by the battle; alternately fighting to live and struggling to accept a mind and body conspiring to leave us.

I had been trying to show her my love and gratitude for months before; with more visits, more phone calls, with gifts, small luxuries and a dream trip with memories to cherish. I wonder if she knew all that was being said with those gestures…I hope so.

But at the end, I needed her to tell me what to do, how to cope, and how she wanted me to carry on. If she had left behind some departing instructions, full of all her experience and wisdom, I could have reflected on her words, and used them as guideposts for the millions of minutes I have been so very lost without her. But this was not to be…

In my search for others who have found themselves motherless and who might understand the accompanying devastation, I came across a staggeringly beautiful tribute site created by a 23-year old women named Emmy. She lost her mother to ovarian cancer in March of 2009 and since then has posted thoughts, music and pictures dedicated to her “mummy”. Her site is called grieving gracefully (in lowercase like a whisper).  Here’s an excerpt from my favorite post:

“Rise above this, Rise above Emmy”

is what my dear mother stressed to me one afternoon ( hands clenched ever so tightly that I could feel her hand pulsing in mine) in her bedroom.

She talked of what she expected from her daughter. Her last moments of crucial parenting before she left for her new home in heaven.

I sat down with a notepad in hand prepared to write down every word she told me and all i wrote was “rise above”- dated March 4th, 2009.

That one hazy afternoon we talked of life in the future. We were about to be separated worlds apart and she needed to know that I would carry on to the best of my ability. I made a promise in my head that day that I would “rise above”- I wouldn’t be that young woman who lost her mother and it broke her. I would be strong. I would rise above and show other’s that I conquered. Just like her.

We learned to LIVE. to LOVE to a higher degree. to be grateful for every second we are given and to see this LIFE as the greatest gift.

Our eyes opened in the darkest hour.

Death never took her away from us. Death could never separate us from our LOVE.

Choose to “Rise Above”

I am envious. Emmy and her Mom confronted what was happening to them, and talked about the end and beyond. As I read this, I try to imagine what Mom would have said to me and the catharsis I believe would have come from hearing her say the words.

Perhaps Mom was always trying to show me in her Bonnie Rae-unique, wonderful, quiet ways how much she loved me; to prepare me for what she would want me to do in the life left without her.

And hoping I would know.

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