My Mother

The text below was shared during shivah with the visitors who came to comfort me.

My Mother

She was born May 9, 1927 in Algiers
She died in the morning of August 27 in her bed in Paris.
In between those two dates, she had run the course of a luminous life. On that last morning, she woke up, said she did not want to take her breakfast nor her medication and simply wanted to go back to sleep. Then the heart that had beaten with passion and love for all those years simply stopped.

Colette was the type of sunshine that warms you all the time. She was constantly active and had only started slowing down and losing some of her enthusiasm for life after her beloved husband died April 8, 2014. They had been married for sixty years and my father Francis was her only love. While he was still alive, he was the one keeping her on her toes intellectually. Otherwise nothing could stop her in her busy tracks, always bustling with errands, planning of all sorts, redesigning, shlepping furniture in between rooms or between her houses – the country cottage and the Parisian apartment – or constantly relandscaping  her garden. Her joy in life was to feed everyone and she would cater the most refined and original tables with a taste for always new recipes. She would jump at any opportunity to throw a festive meal and she would even invent some bizarre celebrations just to have a chance to set a full table of guests to rejoice.

Besides her amazing table, she will be remembered for her gardens. Hers were set in the country of Monet, the impressionist painter, and could definitely sustain the comparison with the best of his paintings. She was constantly perfecting it. Hands in the soil, or hands in the dough, my mother was always busy, and you could find her either in the kitchen, or in the garden, day and… night. She was happy to infuse plants and flowers with her enthusiasm. If they happened to suffer from the inclement weather and die, it was a pure catastrophe, and she would display genuine and utter sorrow over their demise for days.

Colette could not understand evil. There was nothing mean that she not see the good in. She adored people, her family, of course, her brothers, her friends, her cousins, her nieces and nephew, and each and every child born to all of them. She knew each and every birth date – and we are talking of a time when there was no facebook to remind you of sending a happy birthday greeting (and she would never approach anything technological anyways).

She loved making lists, wrote hand written letters that looked like heavily edited first drafts and would never clean them up because of her enthusiasm that would not allow her to stop long enough or regret anything that she had written. She always wanted to proceed with the next thing to be done, not delve on mistakes or shortcomings.

My mom adored that she be loved and everyone always got charmed by her, and rightfully would start loving her. She never wanted to bother anyone. She was a free spirit. She loved literature, had an absolute passion for the English language – which goes back to another long story that I will tell bli neder another time.

She loved making presents and would always give more than what you actually needed. She would send me care packages as if I was living in a war zone, and sometimes those packages were pretty explosive themselves. When I would scold her for overdoing it, she would cry and make me feel awful and guilty. Then it would inevitably end up in hysterical laughters from both of us, and the mishaps would become part of our family lore for ever.

Colette was who everyone dreamt of having for a mom and she actually would allow all who wanted to, to adopt her as such.

She thus became the mother of many, so many that I can’t count. She also became the grandmother of even more, including the children of my brother’s wife who came to France when they were 9 and 11 from Brazil. Family myths have it that she taught them how to speak French in less than three weeks.

To end this for tonight I would like to tell of the very special bond she had with Joseph. I believe the bond is made of their shared traits: their unadultered passion and enthusiasm without any filter, their total inability to think evil, their complete independence, their preference for doing things on their own and their utmost desire to then have the others partake in their joy and marvel at the results of what they do all day long.

Neither of them liked cuddling very much, but they were always ready to cuddle each other. When I told Joseph that his Grannie had died, he looked up and said: “sad“…

Grannie and Joseph cuddling

Sad Update

Colette Horvilleur née Ziza – May 9, 1927 – August 21, 2015

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this update that my mother died this morning in Paris at home.

She will be remembered by all who have known her as a bubbly, always happy, easy going, caring and extremely busy person. She took joy in everything she was doing: cooking, catering to others, feeding everyone in the family, experimenting with recipes, tending to her garden, moving trees and plants to make them happier, reading, writing and teaching.

She had the most loving personality and was faithful to the love of her life, whose death marked the beginning of a struggle with loneliness and search for a purpose in her daily activities. She kept her wonderful sense of humor until the end and never wanted to bother anybody.

She will be sorely missed by all generations.

The funeral will be on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

ברוך דין האמת

#BlogElul – Day 4 – Understand

Those days, when all of a sudden, things that used to work don’t. It is annoying. It can trigger a crisis when you have a child with autism. You just can’t get to the core of it. You have to go with the flow. Accept that you don’t understand. That it is useless to feel afraid, or frustrated, or scared, or angry. It just does not work. There is not much to understand. It goes back to accepting again. Accepting that understanding is not in reach for the moment. It is difficult but necessary.

Living within the realm of autism is living within the realm of very little to understand. I can see it in the questions that I always get around my son. People wonder how we communicate. They ask me to translate what he is saying. I don’t know how to answer to those questions. I communicate through channels that are different, that’s all.

We all like to understand. It lifts so much anxiety. It gives power. A sense of control. But understanding can be an illusion. We understand what we already know. What we have learned or studied. Understanding comes with practice and patience.lamp

Update 5 from South Salem, NY

My two boys back together Dear Friends,

It has been nearly a week since my last letter to you. I have now returned home and I keep contact with my mother mostly through my older brother, via email and hangouts, and with speaking to either of the two dedicated aids who live at home to help caring for mom, on the phone around lunch time, which is morning breakfast time here. During the weekend, my brothers have installed the laptop on the dinner table to allow a skype conference and mom was happy to spot her grandson say “hi” but she quickly closes her eyes, because she is immediately tired now.

Never one day at a time has meant more what it means than during this odd summer for me. I was so relieved to be back home after experiencing the heat wave in Paris, as well as dealing with the emotional roller coaster of caring for my mother along with my two brothers on a daily basis for a little more than a couple of weeks, during which several stages of deterioration of her functions occurred.

I was comforted in my decisions by how things unfolded, and I have no regrets because it felt right to do what we all did, and also because it was a wonderful time with my cousins, my mother’s cousins, and many friends who had a chance to speak with me directly, when this opportunity had not arisen in a long time because I live here.

It felt good because I had complete confidence in my son with autism being as happy as can be, as always, and I received so much support from the most wonderful staff, at his school, as well as at the respite house where he lived, and from the transportation department who went above and beyond to make sure that I always knew he was well taken care of. A mother cannot be more happy about that, and a citizen cannot be prouder of the town she lives in for the services and care that are offered to a student with special needs.

Then, I received such a warm and wonderful welcome as soon as I arrived home. I felt so much love and care, I could not stop talking to my friends and neighbors with a smile, as if nothing sad was happening on the other side of my life and my heart is soaring from the love that is surrounding me. Even though a life is ending slowly, and even though there is pain in witnessing such a process, it feels as if my mom is still gifting me with the gift she has always had of making the world nice and welcoming, festive and warm, friendly and full of stories to tell!

Today, we went to pick up my youngest at camp after a very successful summer as a counsellor there. Our home is back to being full and for a minute I could pretend that life is back to normal. Alas, I know that any time, I can get some news that we do not want to hear about. As we prepare for different stages in our lives, like sending off to college, or starting a new school year in a new town, or starting a New Year for those of us who are Jewish, preparing for the ultimate stage of one’s life seems very strange and uncomfortable but I think it can still be beautiful.

I hope this letter finds you all having some beautiful moments from the summer to share.

With love always,

#BlogElul – Day 3 – Search

Chrysalis It is not so much a matter of searching hard, than a matter of being open. Open to seeing and finding, open to listening and hearing, open to letting go of the search and relaxing that in the end it comes to you. There is so much to take in, that it can be overwhelming most of the time, but when you let it be out of your control, and agree that you can’t know everything, you will let the butterfly go, and remember the beauty.

#BlogElul – Day 2 – Act

Make Things Happen #BlogElul Day 2 – Act

We are all so busy. We share a lot. We “like” and “poke” a lot. We certainly talk a lot. I know I do.

In looking back at my actions this past year, I want to pass them through the lens of result. What did I do that helped things happen?

I can’t come up with solving climate change or peace in the Middle-East, but for what is in my power, there are certainly a lot I could do, and I feel good about putting my acts in line with my words.