Keep A Fire Burning

Posted April 7, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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Yesterday was the day. The earth has traveled 584 million miles around the sun since Shel left the planet, a full year of a Shel-less world. I still don’t understand how one day a person is here, full of love and passions and fun and sorrows and history, and the next day it’s all only a memory, so long as someone remembers, but I have been forced to recognize that it happens, and will happen to us all.

It seems impossible, a year already. I’d been dreading the day for a couple of weeks, thinking that it would shatter my new-found peace. But in the event, it was not at all what I expected. On Sunday, the one year anniversary of Shel’s last day on earth, I remembered what a good day that last day had been. Tom and Nancy, who were here with us on that day, called me Sunday morning and we reminisced about how happy we had all been to be together, not one of us having the slightest premonition that we were living Shel’s last hours. So the day before the anniversary itself was unexpectedly sweet.

I wondered whether I should set an alarm to wake up at the moment Shel died, about 5:00 in the morning, to re-live and release those terrible moments, but then Eric and Jessica and their friend Brian and I stayed up very late and drank far too much, and so I slept blissfully past the hour that had been so terrifying just a year ago. I thought I would awaken to find myself overwhelmed by loss, but no.

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Instead I thought, all day long, about how much has changed in just one year. Nearly everything. I would never have imagined that in one short year I’d be able to regain my equilibrium, be eager to make plans, to create a new life for myself. Yes, it’s true, that tight-knit circle the two of us formed has begun to melt away, ever so slightly, and I’m finding myself again, at the center. And I’ve found my own center again, in the process. Throughout the last few years, and most especially the last year of Shel’s life, I was always off-balance, so afraid that he’d die any minute, that he’d be suffering and I wouldn’t be able to help, that I’d be left alone and fall into the abyss. And then, he did suffer, he did die, I couldn’t do anything to stop it although I know I eased his passing, I was left alone, and I didn’t fall, at least not into the abyss. I fell out of a kayak, I fell on my face taking out the recycling, but that was the worst of it. The abyss did not beckon as I’d thought it might.

Yes I stumbled, yes I wandered blindly, yes I sat alone through hundreds, no thousands, of hours of trying to find my way. And yes I drank too much, smoked too much pot, slept too little, didn’t brush my teeth every single night before bed, and some days ate hot dogs for breakfast and almond butter from a spoon for dinner, and slept too often in the recliner just to have the warm and comforting weight of Toby sleeping in my lap. I’m human, and I forgive myself for all of that. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, making it through this year, but really, amazing as it seems, I think I’m mostly alright now.

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I’ve learned that the strong heart prevails, and I’ll always have him in mine, even if he’s no longer in my life. Our twenty years together were the best part of my life so far, and I’m not saying that I know that the next chapter can be even better, because I’m getting older every day, and that has its own perils. But I do have a plan, a really good plan, for what comes next, and I’m thrilled about it. Is it better to love, lose, be alone, and come up with a great plan, or to be with the one you love and live in daily fear of losing him? Think about it. I sure have.

Spring Has Sprung

Posted March 20, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: ,

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I haven’t been sharing much lately, as I’ve been busy cooking up a new life for myself. I’ll reveal all in a bit, when everything’s settled, but for now, here’s my garden on the first day of spring. It’s way too early for all this, but I have to admit that I’m really enjoying it. And Toby loves to be in the garden with me, hiding in the feathery grasses and pouncing out joyously at every opportunity. If there’s still snow where you are, here, have a few spring flowers.

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Awakening

Posted February 27, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: , ,

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For six months after Shel died I sat still. Frozen, paralyzed with grief, surrendering to my loss. I didn’t do much, didn’t see many people, didn’t make much of an effort, just let the pain take me away. I suppose that I shopped and cooked and did laundry, but it’s all pretty much a blur now. If you spent time with me then, wrote to me, did something kind for me, I thank you sincerely. I’m afraid that I don’t remember much of the detail, except who was there, and who wasn’t.

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Then I went to Europe for three months, and I started to come alive again. The struggle of travelling alone, being in London and Villefranche sur Mer all alone when I’d never been there before, being in Uzès where I’d lived for so long, but never on my own, it was all hard enough that I had to come back to life or else lose myself completely. Lose myself in the words swirling around me, in the masses of strangers, in the different ways friends saw me, now that I’m alone. Really, the whole three months was a sweet slap in the face. And if you were part of that cosmic slap, je te remercie vivement. Thank you.

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Coming home was easier that I’d expected. This orchid that Hilary and Nelson sent me when Shel died has decided to bloom again to welcome me back, even though I haven’t been here to tend it. In this house I have a clothes dryer, a garbage disposal, only 15 carpeted stairs, as opposed to the 50 stone and tile steps that I had in France. Here I have my own bed, where Shel and I slept together for so many years, and my own car, as opposed to the tiny Panda I had in France, a doll-sized car if ever there was one. Here I have a closet full of clothes, as opposed to living out of one suitcase, as I have for the past three months. Here I have comfort, and convenience.

There was a time when all the comfort, all the convenience in the world couldn’t compare with the charms of life in France. But that was in another lifetime. Alone, recovering from a great loss, comfort is what I seek, and I’m trying not to be ashamed about it. I pride myself on being tough, but the recliner, the one Shel always called “the comfy chair,” beckons to me so seductively; it embraces me when no one else does, and I give myself over to that.

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Spring is not far off here, the time of awakening. Winter is passing, the darkness and cold will soon be memories. Just as we don’t seek to hold onto the winter, I’m letting go of the pain, letting spring into my heart. Not letting go of Shel, because of course he’ll be forever with me. But I’m letting go of the piercing, paralyzing grief, and in doing so I’m awakening to the new season, to my new life, wherever I may find it.

I Get Around

Posted February 19, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: , ,

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I’m sitting in my hotel room looking out over the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, because I’m leaving Europe tomorrow, after just a bit more than three months here. Most of it I’ve spent getting my head straight, but just recently I’ve spent a lot of it traveling. I have a lot to show you about the lovely Netherlands, but that will have to wait for a couple of days. Right now, my brain is humming and clickety-clacking from a day spent training through three countries.

I left this morning from Ommen, via a small commuter train, in the sweet company of Katherine. I had been sure that she didn’t need to come with me, but thank goodness she did, because really, I have about 7-8 words of Dutch, none of which were very useful in train stations. So from Ommen we went to Zwolle, where we changed trains and went to Schiphol airport. Not because I was flying anywhere from there, mind you, but just to change trains and take the Thalys train to Brussels. Katherine and I had a surprisingly good lunch at Schiphol, and then, with a flurry of kisses and waves, we said au revoir.

In case you ever happen to find yourself on the Thalys, let me tell you that in First Class they serve you beautiful complimentary meals, at your seat, with wine. They look delicious, but there’s never a low-carb option, so all I do is look, and accept a bottle of wine, which, in itself, makes the trip just that much more enjoyable.

I arrived in Brussels to find that there was a lot of confusion about my train to CDG – they changed the departure track, the announcements were misleading, everyone was asking each other what was going on, and so on. Once on board, the restaurant workers were on strike, so no food or drink was available. I was fine, but I did hear some grumbling around me.

Seven hours after leaving Ommen I arrived at CDG. You know, I could have flown it in about an hour, but it just didn’t occur to me. Shel and I always took the train whenever possible, and I guess I’m continuing that tradition. We always stayed at the Sheraton inside the airport, and so here I am, overlooking the runway as we did so many times together. And we always had dinner at Brasserie Flo, in Terminal 2F. However, by some quirk of mis-memory, I headed to Terminal 2 E, which is about as far as you can get from 2F without taking a train. After a cheery couple of kilometers of trans-terminal strolling (mercifully sans luggage) I sat down to dinner, where I absolutely unconsciously, but unerringly, ordered exactly what Shel ate the last time we dined there together, just a year and a half ago. He had said that it was very good, and so it was.

I came to Europe in mid-November, to close out my life spent here with Shel, and to face up to being alone. I’ve done that, in spades, right up to my final dinner in France, at least for the foreseeable future. I feel so much better than I did when I arrived, almost normal in fact. It’s been tough, lonely, interesting, loving, scary, reassuring, and satisfying by turns. But one thing is clear now – nine and a half months after Shel died I still miss him like crazy, but the acute grief is finished. I’m my own person again, feeling like myself, feeling better every day, and looking forward to whatever comes next. I’m hoping to spend an uneventful day up in the sky tomorrow, and to being re-united with my little family, my house, my garden, and my cat. And to not taking the train again for at least a season or two.

On My Way

Posted February 14, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: , ,

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Tonight, one last dinner in this dining room. The orchid was blooming when I arrived two months ago, and it still is, outlasting me. I can’t say that I was blooming when I arrived, nor am I blooming now, but I’m definitely doing better. Being here, among so many friends, learning to live here amidst the echoes and shadows of my life with Shel, only without him, learning to be alone here, has been good for me. Good in the way that medicine is good for you, only sweeter.

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Here you see just eight of the fifty steps inside this house, and tomorrow morning I’ll walk down them for the last time. Believe me when I tell you that I won’t be missing them at all. I’m off to the Netherlands in the morning, and I’m excited about that. And in a few more days, I’ll leave Europe again, and head back to the New World. I really don’t know where I belong, anymore, but I’m going to be finding that out. I’m letting life take me where it will, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

Sweet Resto, Sweet Town

Posted February 9, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags:

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If you visit this region, you’re going to visit the Pont du Gard. No ifs, ands, or buts, because it’s totally amazing and you have to see it to believe it. And virtually across the road is the lovely, albeit rather deserted, town of Castillon du Gard. In this town there are several restaurants whose prices will make you faint, but there’s also

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Les Jarres, which Maryse and I happened into almost by accident, and where we promptly fell in love. With the restaurant, that is. If you go, get the plat du jour, which will be something prepared à la plancha. In our case, it was tender strips of pork, served on a wooden board with salad, an earthy purée of mushrooms, a ramekin of creamed leeks, and potatoes for her, sautéed fennel for me. It was copious, and every bite was delicious. All this for 16 Euros, which won’t even get you an appetizer at the famous restaurant practically next door. The house wine, however, was pretty bad, and I advise you to get a real bottle of something better; they’ll cork it later so that you can take anything that remains with you.

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After lunch you can stroll through a town where the graffitti might be written in Provençale, or maybe it’s in Occitan, we didn’t know. And if you do, please speak up!

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It’s a charming little place that invites lingering,

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either near the town’s mascot,

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or on this beautiful little bench. Just remember: plat du jour, a real bottle of wine. You’ll love it there, I promise.

To Market, To Market

Posted February 2, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: ,

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Just a little photo essay for you today, and fairly random, at that. I walked out my front door and into the Saturday market, in all its crowded, bustling glory, and wherever I could get a clear shot of some of its offerings, I did. Here’s just a part of what you can get at my local market, everything from discount boots to wine sold by a nun. Have a look.

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And just think, I’m leaving this behind to do my shopping in a grocery store.


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