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

Update 4 from Paris

A new leaf

Dearest Friends,

As I am still planning to return home this coming Thursday, in order to have the necessary time to move my youngest to college after he finishes working at URJ Eisner camp for the summer, I am feeling in a heartbreaking situation leaving my mom and brothers behind.

This past week has been filled with family reunions during the week end, with loved family visitors who stayed for meals, and we were able to set a big table with food, laughter, animated conversations like they have always been the family habit in the past, with mom sitting with us at the table, and obviously happy to do so, despite her intense fatigue.

I had been able to attend shabbat services, both Friday night and Saturday morning, with the honor and pleasure of an alyah (going up to say the blessing before reading from the scroll) for parshat Ekev (the weekly portion in the Torah), and such a loving blessing from rabbi Delphine Horvilleur (yes, we both like claiming that we are related and reminding all that we are cousins). This warmed my heart and was a needed slice of time in an already different and odd frame of time in the week.

Mom is now completely unable to walk by herself. Even from one room to another, we have arranged to wheel her. She does not feel like talking anymore, although she can, and hears well (actually better than she used to). She has been sleeping more and more, and eating less and less.

The heat is still high in Paris. Giving her enough water is our constant worry, and some of the medication meant to lessen the swelling has a side effect and she is getting dehydrated.

Hospice at home is very well organized and all the nurses love her and she likes them. We have had some new running jokes, and she does not forget them and enjoys cracking them. Still, she is now the shadow of herself, but the smile and lack of complaining have not left her. She just does not want to talk over the phone and does not rejoice at visits in advance anymore. However, she winced at knowing we had to return home.

My younger brother was able to postpone his departure and will stay until the end of the week. I feel terrible to be leaving, but I feel my sons are expecting me. I made a promise to my autistic boy I cannot forfeit now. This has been the longest time ever I had left him and he seems to have done fabulous. I need to see this by myself now to appease my fears and wonders, even though I know he has been flexible and well taken care of.

Thank you all of you, for having followed my updates and for your lovely comments and news. It has been a difficult summer for me and I sometimes feel a bit ashamed to bring shadows and clouds into what is the time to relax and think of only replenishing strengths for the coming year of busy lives. But your loving responses have brought me solace and help to keep going on. My travels are not over and I am so grateful for your presence always.

With love,


Update 3 from Paris

2015-08-02 21.30.09Dear Friends,

A good chunk of time since my last update. I am not the best organized traveler away from home and I tend to depend on my various hosts schedules instead of following my well established routines when I have my life and work at home: I feel cut from the news of my world while I am staying on slow motion, sitting next to my mom, answering the phone and giving the same news over and over: so many friends who were used to hearing from her directly, but she is not keen any more to speak with anyone, and simply wants to close her eyes, sometimes sigh in a not very charitable way if the person who called was not her favorite of the moment!

I still get as much as lashon hara (the evil speech or gossip) or back stories about neighbors and friends that I have not known, with less significant details that would explain why some of these nice callers would be not too welcome to chat at this more difficult time, but I can easily guess: it could be that they do not share political views, or that they are not always interested in the same important topics as gardening or cooking or literature or the grandchildren, their studies and their intelligence, well, you know, we are all the same after all!

But it is now time to cut to the chase. Mom wants to know what I told them, and then invariably tells me that I said it right: “It is perfect!”. She is staying positive as she has stayed her entire life. Everyone is nice and lovely. But those she does not want to entertain, she dismisses them with a gesture of the left hand, like you are chasing an annoying fly, and she utters a “pfuuui’ that means a world.

Meals are now very long and slow. As my younger brother is going to arrive this evening, my mother mentioned that he was going to be ruthless with her. She admits I have been more patient and lenient with her taking her time, and not always finishing the plates. I have had a teacher in patience with my autistic son for sure. He also taught me to notice very tiny and significant changes in behaviors. Every day, mom has been declining in a tiny way that one would not necessarily notice at once, but the leg is dragging, the moves are slower and sometimes the planning is forgotten: she is surprised to pick up a fork and wonders what to do with it or she dozes after she has started to swallow.

Last Sunday was a good day: no visits and plenty of time to listen to the silence. Memories came back as she was pointing to the paintings she wants us to keep. I recorded the stories that were told several times and stories that had never been told.

In the evening, five of us cousins spent time for a pleasant dinner on a terrace and spoke about our parents, mom being the last living parent of the three common siblings branch, memories are warm and never sad. Time is slow and like it is holding a tenuous breath.

Thinking of you all, with love,

Update 2 from Paris

View of the roofs and the Eiffel Tower

Dear Friends,

Today, Thursday morning in Paris, under a beautiful sun, with a balmy 67 F, I am thinking of you all, knowing that the previous heat wave has now reached the East Coast. I am in the full swing of the Parisian rhythm, meaning starting the day a bit later, and seeing the sun out until much much later, with early dinner after 9 pm. The phone ringing and the friends and family asking for latest news and if they can come by, arranging everybody’s schedule so that mom’s home is not like Grand Central at rush hours. Going to refill supplies, medical and otherwise and giving news to the neighbors and the pharmacists.

I have forgotten I am a stranger in my hometown. I smile when someone I have spoken to figures it out that I must be a foreigner to be that nice and helpful, because a true Parisian would never speak with someone they have not known, and even less think of helping with a random information! So I have already heard twice that I have no accent in French and speak it perfectly which is pretty hilarious. It pleases me to be an advocate for the kind ways of the US and be a good ambassador for how helpful we always are, even if I know pretty well that both ways these are just stereotypes.

My mother has had a couple of “bad” days: she barely was alert, until on Tuesday for dinner, when with one of my cousins we had a feast with a “foie gras”, a glass of good red wine and lots and lots of laughter and reminiscence. After such a dinner, mom slept a full night and was more alert yesterday, with a busy day filled with visits, friends, flowers, the doctor who is a young Jewish woman also from North Africa, so we enjoyed sharing out judeo-arabic jargon to explain how mom was feeling (like yiddish, judeo-arabic barely translates all the multiple nuances that could be contained in a single word expression, and it felt good being understood at the same time as reverted to “mother tongue”!)

Talking with my cousins and relatives, either on the phone or during their visits, can be a bit emotionally draining, because I repeat a lot of the same, and some have difficulties grasping with the idea that our always alert, busy, bustling and joyous mom is now barely moving and getting less and less alert every day, with lapses in her memory, while still being so present, smiling and laughing with glee at everyone’s presence.

I am having good conversations with her and she misses her beloved so much that she feels good that we can talk about my father together. I have asked her oldest cousins to take the opportunity to recall their childhood memories, since I have no personal references except from what she wrote about and told us, but she enjoys filling plenty of gaps that are now coming back. This morning, she was not so sure she was living in her Paris apartment anymore and thought that she was in a childhood place because of some visiting plans made with her niece and her grand-baby. Getting her to overcome confusion in a non threatening way has become every hour’s goal. Her pain management has been efficient so far, and everyone makes sure she does not forget to mention when she is uncomfortable.

She still enjoys eating the very delicious food that her aid, Jeanette is preparing. Jeanette is delightful and talkative, loves cooking and is ecstatic about mom’s kitchen which contains everything she needs to prepare food: she can tell mom was a fabulous cook and both of them can bond very well around their meals. Our table is still always open and it is a joy to have guests happy to share our stories and memories.

Thinking of you all and not forgetting you. I will keep you all posted.
With love,

Update 1 from Paris

Under the towerDear Friends,

I made it very safe to Paris during Saturday/Sunday night. I had the pleasure of being upgraded to Business Class by AirFrance and was looking forward to a good albeit shortened night sleep during the flight, when unfortunately the next aisle passenger happened to have been a true obnoxious French lady who managed to create a near riot in the entire business class lounge by mishandling her poor 4 year-old grandson who happened to be autistic: little did she know she was sitting so near to a real expert who could assess the situation in a wink and know exactly how badly she was handling the situation.

I could have killed her if my judgmental thoughts had been a deadly weapon. Especially when she proceeded to spank the mischievous child who was desperately trying to get her attention to his needs, and justified that he “needed limits” ~ which prompted me to finally tell her that she was the one who had overpassed hers.

I found my mom much better than I had feared it, and very able still although physically very affected by the cancer. I spent most of the Sunday with her and we shared lunch when she had good appetite. The aid at home is wonderfully professional and caring at the same time. My brothers are tense but efficient too. She has a good amount of visitors at home and phone and enjoys a little time interacting with everyone. And is still sharp and plenty of good laughs and sense of humor. She complains a bit about pain and discomfort at short periods of time and I still have to see what the nurses medical assessment is and she is relieved by few drops of morphine. She is delighted I came and wants us to make plans for the HHD as she still believes she will get past her weakness. She has some expected short term memory lapses.

I will keep u posted.

Hope this update finds you well and with only good news.
With love always

The time to leave

butterfly in bushIt is time I let you know what is going on in my life right now.

Several weeks ago, I was told my mum is terminal with cancer in her liver, bones and brain.

I scrambled to get organized to be fully prepared to leave upon notice.

While my brothers and cousins all made sure to arrange a comfortable hospice care at her home. She started to regain some strength after spending two weeks in the hospital, at the same time as the worst heat wave has been hitting Paris in years. As you probably know it, the old City of Lights might be beautiful, it is not built with A/C in buildings. Houses are made of stone, so they can keep some freshness inside better than wood for sure, but still, it is hot in the city, plus polluted and noisy, with windows open and trying to get some air circulating is a pain.


My mum, although born and raised in a hot Mediterranean shore (Algiers in North Africa) hates it when it is hot. She has never been sick in her entire life and until the last minute when she actually collapsed, she has been trotting and doing long walks and taking care of herself like the lady she is. After my father’s death, she had indeed started to slow down and experience the blues, but you cannot say that this is her ways, and even when she was first diagnosed at age 87 with cancer, she took it with utmost philosophy.

After my father’s death, she and I had taken upon the very sweet habit of talking daily on the phone. This was not happening before, because my father and I were both ardent users of the Internet, and we would email back and forth as needed, sometimes several times a day, commenting on everything, from the most mundane stuff to heated political debates, as we were not always of the same persuasion, if not completely opposed on religious ideas for instance. But my mum has never shown interest to the screen, and never wanted to understand the Internet at all. It felt probably a bit surreal that sometimes her husband would call her to participate to a chat on Skype.


She enjoys it for sure, but is still not very sure where to position herself to be seen on camera, and becomes much more interested in exploring what she can see of the background than listening and talking in a conversation! She would exclaim that she does not recognize what kind of throw is on my bed, or wonder who gave me that t-shirt I am wearing, or what are the piles of books she sees on the side table, or the mess that I would have forgotten to hide from the view! Typically mom.

Because my father was not here anymore to facilitate those connexions, we turned to chatting on the phone, and because she did not have to cater to his needs we took our time. She was also slowing down because age taking its toll on her, memory being affected, and some blurriness apparently in the thinking. But we have enjoyed fabulous conversations, especially going to talk about all the “unfinished business”, recalling people or stories and getting deep into them with no complacency.

But this is all over now. She has lost independence and is resting for all these years of having been so busy, but she still enjoys getting my daily phone call, except that the time we spend together has gradually reduced to a couple of minutes.

So it is time for me to book my plane tickets and go be by her side, as she is ending her life. She deserves to have all her children around her. I will be leaving now and am planning to help her stay as positive and peaceful as she has always been. It is a very strange and difficult time, when one day at a time is becoming one minute at a time and when I feel I sometimes am overwhelmed by sadness and panic that I have not been a good enough daughter to her, and sister to my brothers, and to my family, because I left and stayed to live in a foreign country, to raise boys who have become strangers because they were never raised in France.

I am wondering how this journey is going to unfold, I am learning to go with getting prepared to anything when there is nothing I can control anymore as to the life of who gave me life. It is a very unsettling feeling.

How does going back to one’s roots feel like

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013:

What does getting back to your roots look like to you?

Going back to my roots is a way to  honor those who have come before me and basically made it possible for me to be who I am.

It looks like a pilgrimage sometimes, an arduous road with rocks that climbs to the unknown, made of strange emotions,  a mix of sadness for what is not anymore and a pride that can overwhelm the sadness and make me feel so alive, so thankful, grateful and inspired.

View of some rows of graves overseeing the beach of landing at the American Cemetery of Colleville sur Mer

I have experienced this three summers ago, when I had planned to visit my family back in France, and my brother invited the three of us for a week’s vacation in Normandy, with the goal of having the three cousins bond around their common roots, the American boys and the French one visiting the Normandy beaches of landing, and learn about their common history with the heroic and often tragic demise of the British and American troops who fought the German army on these beaches in 1944.

We had rented a cottage near Sainte-Mère-l’Eglise, and toured all the beaches each day, the museums and all the memorials that are on the roads at nearly each corner of the villages on the coast for miles and miles. History was alive under our feet. We went to the American cemetary in Colleville-sur-Mer and had the most moving experience, when my two boys, aged 13 and 15 silently stood, their baseball cup placed against their heart, in this so typically American posture of respect, that does not belong to the French culture at all, and I got the chills. With nearly 10,000 graves marked by white crosses, some of them adorned of a Star of David, the sight is chilling and solemn, the magnitude of the tragedy that unfolded is palpable. My son started to notice names of brothers, cut short in their lives in their twenties and our imagination could only venture at the surface of the pain that must have been endured.

Feeling how the sacrifice of those young men and women had allowed them to come to this world – had France not been liberated, it is very unlikely that their grand-father had met their grand-mother, given birth to their mother, and therefore they would not have existed… as simple as that.

Last summer, I took my youngest to the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris, and this time we said kaddish for my grandmother. We walked in the streets of Paris, in Le Marais, where I told him some of the stories of the area, that resonate so much for me. Less for him. It felt more like being a tourist in a city where the roots were not so obvious for him. Nevertheless, he chose to go on with going back to his roots and will travel to Europe and Israel this summer. I feel like I have passed the right heritage to him.

I may sometimes – pretty often in fact – feel like a fragile tree barren of its leaf in the wind, not knowing very well, if I will hold or fall and wondering if my limbs will weather the storms and the harsh winters, and then I remember that deep in the ground there are those multiple, often complicate roots, that hold steady and fast. I feel that if the ground is taken good care of, tended to properly, these roots will help my body and my entire being to strive, grow and multiply in a healthy way. It gives me strength and hope for the future. This is how getting back to my roots feels like to me.


See some of my other posts of the series:

Influencing culture

Family traditions

A family history

Influencing Culture

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013:

How much does your culture come into play in your day-to-day life?

How much? An awful lot, I would say!

Eiffel Tower
Image courtesy of chrisroll at

My culture is extremely grounded in the fact that I lived in France for forty years, and that when I moved here, being French was so much part of my identity that I felt very foreign.

Living in a very rural part of the county when I had been a city girl for so many years may have added to my sense of isolation, and then came the diagnosis of autism for our elder, followed very shortly after with the collapse of the relationship with my husband. I needed to cling to something solid. My culture was my backbone, and I had no one left to share it with.

So the other part of my identity, being Jewish became even more important. Thankfully, there was a strong Jewish community in my town, and I affirmed and grounded myself in that part of my culture, that was not as foreign anymore, even though I had to adapt to some very significant different customs than from what I had known back in my hometown.

See my other posts of the series:

Family Traditions

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Family Traditions

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Monday, June 10, 2013:

Tell us about a tradition passed through your family.

When we think of traditions, we might think of foods, of meals, of holidays. Those are very “classical” traditions, and I was wanting to find a more unconventional tradition, that would belong to my particular family only. I like it when things are not exactly like with everyone.

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at

There is a long lasting tradition of unconspicuously shaking the piece of clothing at our collar bone, pinching it between the thumb and index and slightly shaking it as to take off an imaginary dust. The gesture could even be accompanied by the energetic statement “On se secoue!” (“Let’s shake oneself off!”). The whole ceremonial (as discreet as can be) is a quick way to chase the evil eye, in other words a way to call upon some kind of protection in the face of a gloomy possibility. Someone mentioning a bad accident that occured to them recently could elicit the gesture while feeling very sorry for what has happened to the fellow and showing our compassion, while quite mechanically bringing our hand to our collarbone and shaking it off from the bad luck that might have befallen us too. I know that other people would knock on wood in the same kind of circumstances, we don’t: we shake ourselves and secretly wish for the best!

This tradition seems to stem its origins in sefardim, the Jews from Northern Africa descent, and all my cousins do it too. It’s like a secret sign of acknowledgement. I often wonder what strangers to our family or tradition could think when they would hear us or notice us in passing! (You have to really observe to notice and wonder what it means, unless you keep hearing bad news in a row!).

Another tradition started sixteen years ago between one of my brothers and me only.
My youngest son and his were born two months apart, both on an eleventh of the month. As they were babies, it was customary to celebrate each of their month, as we usually do after four weeks of life of those precious bundles of joy. We kept counting their months far above the time lives of babies are counted in months, and even after their third birthday, we would solemnly wish each other something on the 11th. Since we were not neighbors anymore, it had become a special email message, with something witty, related – or not – to the number 11. In 2001, thankfully we had already exchanged our facetious wishes when the tragedy struck the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, as it was already much later in the daytime for my brother who lives in Europe, and I usually answer his emails first thing when I get up, so much before the terrible events unfolded. It was my nephew’s fourth birthday, and also the first day of his last year of nursery school for my son. We still faithfully kept the tradition going on even though tragedy again struck on March 11 in Madrid a couple of years later (2004 as a matter of fact) and then the terrible earthquake followed by the devastating tsunami in Japan 2 years ago.

This tradition has absolutely no superstition component to it, it is as facetious and friendly as can be, and it is made of brother/sisterhood at its best. It is a way to remind ourselves how important we remain in each other’s thoughts, and having a date to formally acknowledge it is very meaningful. We do email, or chat each other very often otherwise, at any given time of any day of the month, but this tradition of formally celebrating the eleventh is extremely strong. Tomorrow will not be any exception to our very special game! And it is always a surprise on what the theme might be. I am looking for it.

This is maybe not a tradition that was passed through our family, but rather a newly established one, that, who knows, will pass to the two cousins, our sons?


See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away


Random facts about my judaism

A family history

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Friday, June 7, 2013 – Prompt:

Tell us a story from your family history.

Wow. This prompt is leaving me with a blank.
I am not so good at choosing when the choice is too wide.
I chose to follow the prompts for that reason. The topic of “Roots” felt wide and vague enough for me to need the framework and the prompts seem to better offer that framework.

But then telling a story from my family history feels like going back to the ocean of the general topic of “Roots”. What story? Each day is a story, each person is a story. My mother wrote a book about her story, my father, upon my request, did so too, not a real book in his case, because he is a reluctant writer, so he chose to gather facts and piled them in a sort of chronology of how he went through his years before he got married for instance.

Then my mother also prepared fabulous photo albums after she retired. It is very time-consuming, so I am eternally grateful to her that she did so, and every time I visit – which is unfortunately only every other year – I enjoy going to those heavy books of pictures that she organized following some themes that are meaningful to her only in the beginning, but that I am ready to adopt to embrace her memories of her life, especially fascinating that I am in the stories of course! And that my recollections are tainted with another set of memories, or emotions, and that shows how we perceive events or reality through our own prisms always!

These are wonderful stories, sometimes painful stories too, that I participated in for the last parts at least (fifty-five years and counting!). The stories that took place before my birth have another flavor. I grew more fond of learning them as I am getting older: because I am more busy with my memories than when I was busy with my dreams and hopes. Because I have lost so many of the wonderful people who were building the possibilities in these stories also. Because I know better the value of the instant that I have let go so often, without paying enough attention to the story that was underlying and that was meaningful when it was unfolding.

Also, because I know how life can take it all in a split second: and what if no one was left to retell this or that story? I am a very anxious person, and my anxiety is growing with passing years, instead of subsiding into a more serene state of mind. I thought that working on building up memories that can last an eternity was a way to overcome the panic and the feeling that I could suddenly lose things forever.

I have come to believe that my profound anxiety stems in my history. There has been a lot of abusive events, enough to prove that I would be scarred and scared. I remember what a psychiatrist whom I had been in therapy with when I was younger had suggested to me, that being the daughter of holocaust survivor had certainly an impact on my psyche. Research has documented this since (see the footnote).

The thing with Jews, is that if you go back into their history, there is very likely a short period between succeeding traumas. The generations that lived before the Holocaust (or Shoah, as I prefer to call it – but that is another story – ) had gone through pogroms, or displacement, or if you go back again a quarter century, you’ll find persecutions, antisemitism, and destruction again, and again, enough to traumatize one generation over an other. This is one way of looking at the story. And then, there is the other way of looking at it: which is the incredible resilience, the everlasting rebuilding upon ashes that these families, mine, have accomplished in the face of these destructions and evil events. Yes, sometimes, I find a branch that goes dry, that is coming to a tragic end, but very often, another member of the same family has done differently and gone to recreate a burgeoning tribe. Also, some of the members who have been cut off from their roots, for different reasons probably, and lost their belonging to the Jewish family, often surprisingly resurrect their Judaism many years later and seem to go ‘back home’.

This is certainly the story that I would choose preferably to tell. How I feel profoundly and inherently part of a family, a very special family that goes back so far in time that I can’t exactly know when or where it really started. It gives me strength and solace, it gives me support and hope. It certainly depends on my belief system and faith, but even when I doubt and feel like I do not believe that much, it seems to have a way to catch me back, as if I was attached with a rubber band that is not drying.

I know that the best stories are stories with a happy ending. But when you talk about a family history what could be the ending? It is a never-ending story! It certainly is not a fairy tale, when we live happily ever after, after the events that took place dramatically in the tale, because there is so much unknown to what a family can become, but I am proud to be part of it, as little as my role could be in its unfolding, and as humble my words can be in their attempt to leave a trace in the sand for all to know about what we did and how we did it.

Footnote: Links in English on Trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors and their children

See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away


Random facts about my Judaism