Tomorrow, in the sandy soil of Santa Barbara CA, by friend Annick will bury the ashes of her mother.
Today, in the process of attempting to organize our Christmas closet, I found a plastic bag with Christmas cards received nearly three decades ago. One of those cards was from Annick:
|Dear Cory (sic)... a friend I |
need to get to know better.
In the years between the day she wrote that card and this morning when she sent me a text saying “Are you surviving the stress of the day?” I have come to know her and love her like no other.
Annick was raised mostly in New England, the daughter of immigrant parents with a delicious mixture of French, Swedish and Maltese running through her veins. Her father was a professor at MIT. She has fond memories of their holiday dinner tables being surrounded by students from all walks of life, who lived too far from their homelands to travel for the Christmas break. Brilliant minds with flavorful opinions caught in discussions well past the consumption of food. She sat there, her long dark hair gathered in a thick braid, tucked beside her father, listening to the cacophony of accents. She adored her father. I wept with her when he died.
Once Annick’s mother, Inger, came to Utah for a visit and my mother had them over for a luncheon at her condo. This was decades ago, before Annick’s mother deepened her animosity toward the religion her daughter chose to adopt, before she wrote Annick out of the will, before she left a gaping wound in my friend’s tender heart. Inger was friendly and engaging and full of stories. We spent a lovely afternoon together. A week after Inger returned to Santa Barbara, where she lived, my mother received a thank you card in the mail. Inside, written in her lovely Swedish handwriting, Inger said:
Thank you for a delightful lunch and wonderful company. Since I have returned home, I am afraid an enormous fatigue has finally settled in.
For decades now our family has embraced the concept of enormous fatigues.
Inger liked fine things. A collector of art and other treasures of the world, she took particular pride in her possessions. She once purchased a set of bed sheets designed by Princess Grace of Monaco. Annick remembers them always sitting in the linen closet, folded neatly in their ribboned packaging. Inger would not use them for fear they would wear out and lose their color
After raising her two daughters in England, Boston and Santa Barbara, Inger finally moved to Salt Lake City. Annick was sometimes welcome to visit her, sometimes not. Inger was quite a conundrum in the mother category. Annick is an example of a modern pioneer saint; one who sacrificed her homelands and family for her religious convictions. Her mother could not forgive her for joining the Mormon church and made no bones about it, coming right up to the edge of disowning her daughter for her faith. Her mom was atheist.
In the last few years Annick’s mom took up residence in one of the finer retirement facilities in Salt Lake City, one where people coiffed their hair in the beauty shop once a week and wore heels to dinner. Inger took pride in her living space, displaying her refined taste in decor. Set in a place of honor was a lovely porcelain urn she had selected years before. When guests visited, she would draw their attention to her urn, indicating that this would be her final resting place when she was dead. Her designated funeral urn was a notable treasure to her.
When it became necessary to move Inger to a place where she could have more medical assistance, Annick’s sister Clair, the golden child, was invited to go help transfer her mother’s belongings to the new facility. Somehow, in the process of moving her things, Clair accidentally dropped the prized urn and it shattered in pieces. Fortunately, Inger was not present. Clair spent the next week searching funeral urns on the internet, deliberately taking her time unpacking the boxes of her mother’s things. Finally, she found one that was close enough, and purchased it with express shipping. Whether it was failing eyesight, or the effects of a stroke on her memory, Inger never did catch on to the fact that her prized urn was fake.
As it became apparent that Inger was not long for this world, Clair decided to put the Princess Grace sheets on her mother’s bed. When the moment came that Inger’s spirit fled her body, Clair decided she didn’t want to be there. Annick, the “lost child” was the only one present. She sat with her mother until her dying breath. And when the others had come and said their goodbye’s, then left to live their lives, Annick stayed beside her mother’s lifeless body until it was placed in the oven. It was hours, there in the basement of the mortuary, where she sat in silence beside the woman who had all but disowned her. For a while, her compassionate nephew joined her, but in the end it was just Annick and her mother, as it was the day she was born. Her brother-in-law called at one point, asking how long she intended to stay there. “This is costing me money to have you there,” he said.
“I will be here until I can no longer see her.” And she was.
Before they placed her mother’s empty body in the oven, Annick switched out the Grace Kelley sheet for an old non-descript one.
“My mother would never have wanted those sheets to burn!” Annick may not have the inheritance that was taken from her, but by golly she has those Princess Grace sheets.
Tomorrow, in the warm breezes of Santa Barbara, they will place that fake prized urn full of Inger’s ashes in the earth, next to her husband. I pray for Inger to be able to see, with fresh new eyes, the daughter she shunned. I pray for her to see the unique beauty in her oldest child, who loved her, and who also loved the Lord.