It was a long several days–between the wake and the funeral and the family dynamics that went on almost entirely in my head, I have come home exhausted…I have known “Ma” Vadeboncoeur since 1949, having married her daughter, she is grandma to my kids and great grandma to my grandchildren—and the factors surrounding my kids and the emotions around grief and the sadness and the love ——-well, there is no need to go on. I got into one of my ruminating moods and found it next to impossible to meditate my way out of the maze.
All this and driving through the town where i was born and ending up at the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried and driving by the house where I grew up….well, it was a convergence that felt like a hot sauce dripped over cool memories…it created steam and fog. I cried many, many times–for just short spurts.
Then someone who I had not seen in 48 years would waltz by and we would give each other a look of curious, reminiscence;
and suddenly a flash of recognition would create another nostalgic moment. It was a very emotionally packed few days. “Ma” is buried and with her goes an era, several generations of a family history intertwining two families–neighbors in a small New England town in the early 1950’s when the world had begun to recuperate from the Greatest War in world history.
I am glad to be back home—And perhaps for the first time ever in my memory, I think I have let go of a nostalgia, let go of a past that was in so many ways so good that I fought against forgetting the town where I was born. Part of me has always recalled the town and the generation of Deluxe America as an iconic image of a masterpiece that could never be duplicated.
Not only did I grow up there, but I started a family there, my children were born there. Lake Hiawatha was there. Emile’s General Store and the Church of the Assumption was there and the soda fountain and the South School–they were all there and one could walk to everything that anyone needed. It was many years before I began to understand that there was a world outside of Bellingham worth leaving home to find. And another many number of years before I let myself ever find another world where I did not need to think of being elsewhere in order to be happy.
What happened to me over the past several days of “Ma’s” funeral was all internal. My mind moved from the distant past to a tearful moment by the side of the casket and back to my children and then to my own deceased parents. I moved between moments of joy and moments of severe hurt and hopelessness. I saw that “Ma” died on the same day that I applied for my Social Security. I saw a past merging into a future. I saw the indispensable, inevitably of death and sorrow the the profound connection that sorrow has on the extent of our ability to love.
I also saw how un needed I had become and that my relationship to my own family had become filled once again with expectations that just can not be met in the new world. Sailing from 1950 to 2010 is about as profound a difference as it was to sail from France to a new world in New England several hundred years ago. I long for a village. And in that village everyone that I know lives and knows me and we meet at the old corner store, and we stand in the bank with our neighbor waiting in the same line.
“How did your son make out after the last game, he seems so devastated when the coach benched him?”
“Oh Milly, he will be fine he needs to learn to take those blows. He knows we love him and not everyone
can be good at the same sport. He will find his way in the world–they always do, don’t they?
I miss the tenderness of youth that went along with living in a village by the church, near the store, by Peter’s brook that ran as steady and as reliably as the sunrises and the sunsets. I would sit by the brook and compose a poem in my head about where the river was going and did it have a soul and was God watching the river the way he was watching over me. I loved the moving river and at the time I did not know why. Now i do…it runs by me the way my life runs past a galaxy of time. It come from back there someplace and moves forward to out there someplace. And it never stops until it reaches its ocean–its own home forever, or as forever as anything is in the impermanence of the universe. I saw my reflection in that river and built dreams made of snow that melted like ice in Ecuador.
While I watched as my neighbors from sixty years past grieved each in their own way, I saw smiles and tears and frowns and misgivings. I saw children who grew to know that the relation they had with their mother was constructed of duration. There is no mindfulness of impermanence in matters of the heart. When is comes to our parents and our children the only sure thing is duration and within that duration of time we hurt, we cry, we love, we fight and we die. The potential for every conceivable human emotion is born into each child and each one of us play out these dimensions within the duration of time that is measured by our place in the family.
I began calling her “Ma” when I married one of her seven children and when I divorced that same wonderful woman that I had married some 15 years prior, I continued to call her, “Ma,” because that is who she became. Just a month or so ago I received a facebook message from “Ma,” it read. “I think about you often, Al. I always loved reading your hand written notes to me. In my heart you will always be my son-in-law.”
“Ma” Vadeboncoeur knew about duration and she practiced it with not only her beloved children but with everyone she knew. With her you knew you belonged….how can anyone ever forget such a loving, kind, curious and emotionally intelligent soul. Thank you for all you have been and for the multitude of ways in which we knew each other so well. You will be missed, but your message of duration is etched forever on my heart.
One last thing, I have a hope that this precious message of duration that you so kindly passed on to your children will seep from my heart into my kids and grand kids. What a perfect memory to have that Love is forever and that it can contain the most unlikely and the most diverse emotions.
It took a village