Sunday, March 16, 2008


She was still lucid when I spoke to her. Days later, she would slip out of consciousness and a few days after that, she would pass away.

At the moment she died, when her heart stopped beating, there were only two other people in the room. My mother and one of my aunts - two daughters by marriage only.

But when I saw her she could still speak and understand. Grandmother, I told her, I am getting married. You have to get out of this stupid hospital so you can come to my wedding.

"That's wonderful news. I'm so happy for happy. But how will I travel? The doctor says I have to be in a wheelchair for months!"

It was then that one of my uncles laughed. "Don't be silly! People in wheelchairs travel on airplanes all the time. We're not letting you get out of this one that easily!" Laughter in the hospital room. A rare thing in those last days.

Her funeral was two weeks later. The attendance, so I heard. was in the hundreds. She had eight living children. And each of them had procreated several times. Add to that her great-grandchildren, her living siblings and their enormous families. Add to that a lifetime of friendships.

She was born in 1920 on a small farm in California. Soon after her birth, her family emigrated to Mexico. At the age of 18 she married an older man, Tomas, my grandfather, the man she would remain with for the rest of her life. He still lives and is approaching the age of 100. In a few years they were looking forward to celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary.

When my grandfather visited her in the hospital, together, they would laugh and play like children. My uncles had to grab my grandfather, like policemen grasping a bandit, to prevent him from lifting his wife out of the bed and taking her home.

At the funeral, it was decided that the oldest child of each of her children would be the coffin-bearers. I am my father's oldest child. But my place was taken by my younger brother Tomas (named after our grandfather) who with a black suit and white gloves, with my cousins David and Enrique and Amador and Stephen and Jesse solemnly carried my grandmother's body to her grave.

I was not at the funeral. I was five thousand miles away, getting married.
This last week I have been paying a round of goodbye visits, for I think it will be some time before I see Alexandria again. It has become stale and profitless to me. And yet how can we but help love the places which have made us suffer? Leave-takings are in the air; it's as if the whole composition of our lives were being suddenly drawn away by a new current. For I am not the only person who is leaving the place - far from it. Mountolive, for example, will be leaving in a couple months; by a great stroke of luck he has been given the plum post of his profession, Paris! With this news all the old uncertainties seem to have vanished; last week he was secretly married! You will guess to whom...

There are a hundred things to attend to before I start the bore of packing. As for you, wise one, I have a feeling that you too perhaps have stepped across the threshold into the kingdom of your imagination, to take possession of it once and for all. Write and tell me - or save it for some small cafe under a chestnut-tree, in smoky autumn weather, by the Seine.

-From Clea, Lawrence Durell