My mother never made it to France before she died. It was the one place she desperately wanted to visit. She always considered herself very “French”, in that she was rarely found without a glass of red wine and a cigarette dangling delicately between two fingers. She never made it to France because she had given her entire self to me, her daughter.
As a single mother, I became her entire world, a blessing and a burden I could sometimes feel the weight of. When I entered my 20’s, the age when daughters and mothers tend to become better friends, we decided to go there together. I can remember sitting on our front porch with a large map splayed across the table, covered in deep wrinkles, not from traveling but from mere dreaming. I remember our fingertips tracing through France, mine heading toward Paris while my mother’s preferred the beach and the countryside.
All the while, the cancer grew inside of her like an unstoppable weed, still unearthed and invisible. It’s tentacles reaching for her precious lungs, ready to ruthlessly steal every last breath. It’s a strange, terrible and tragic thing, essentially just waiting for someone to die. Especially someone of such vast importance, the person who created me, both physically and in the way one lovingly molds a piece of clay with their bare hands.
When it happened, it happened quickly. Much too fast to even attempt a last minute adventure. But board a plane she would… Everything about that night is burned into my brain. A small, staticky TV in the background announced Obama as the newest President of the United States. Next to it was a heart monitor, beep…beep…beep…I lay on two chairs pushed together, unable to sleep as my entire body filled with fear that each beep might be the last. I felt angry toward the nurses for giving my mother so much morphine that she was unable to talk.
Although the anger was misdirected, as anger often is, I will forever wonder what her last words would have been. I like to think she might have whispered, “take me to France.” Months went by, but pain didn’t. She had unfinished business, which I felt I inherited. I needed to deliver a ghost. With her ashes hidden and buried in my luggage, I boarded a plane that was nearly missed.
Paris was wonderful, like a storybook. I walked along cobblestone streets with small cafes where women sat outside with a book, red wine, and cigarettes. It was like being inside my mother’s imagination.
I searched for days for the perfect place to set her free, but nothing was good enough. Or perhaps I was just not ready to let go. I knew that once I did, I would be there alone, and I was not ready for that.
I ended up on a beach in Nice, France when I knew that it was time. I walked to a secluded area of the shore, and into the Mediterranean Sea. A body of water my mother had spoken of and read stories about before, but never touched until now. Clutching the small container of a fine powder that was once a brilliant and beautiful human so strange that is, that we eventually become nothing more than dust I walked out into the water far enough that the rocky seafloor was barely out of my toes’ reach. Then holding the container underwater, I twisted off the lid, finally. A moment that is also burned into my brain.
At first, nothing happened. The water rushing in had compacted the ashes. But when I gently moved my hand, she spilled out into the sea like a gymnast’s ribbon, flowing out of the container and circling my body. I remember looking down in awe at the way the ashes intermingled with the water. Then inhaling a large breath of salty air, appreciating the moment of existing right now, in this beautiful place, being alive, the mist from the waves crashing leaving droplets on my skin and salt on my tongue.
Then plunging down into the water, taking that breath down with me as the remains of my mother hugged my body for the last time before dissipating and melting away into the sea.
It was this, not the sound of staticky TV and heart monitors beeping life away in a dingy hospital room, but this point in time, with little rays of sunlight forcing their way beneath the veil of the sea, this was our last moment together.