Monday, December 1, 2008

Joie de Vivre et Madame M.

1940 hrs. -- It was an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood until I walked inside. The home is filled with lush, expensive furnishings. My eyes are dazzled by the glittering, crystal chandeliers, rich rugs and fabrics. Nearly every square inch of available wall space is taken up by gilt-framed oils and drawings. Books, trinkets, memorabilia and personal photos inhabit nearly every flat surface in the home. Mrs. M. once had a lot of dusting to do!

I follow the deceased's daughter, Iris, to the hospital bed in the dining room. Mrs. M's body is lying in dignified repose. A turban hides her thinning hair and her face is in full makeup.

"Oh my, she looks beautiful!", I exclaim.

"Well, I know Mom would never want to leave the house unless she was completely made up", says the daughter.

Although tearful, Iris is eager to tell me a bit about her mother's story. A singer, dancer and artist, Mrs. M. was well loved by all who knew her. Many of the treasures in her home had been collected from her frequent ventures abroad. In a photo, from her "prime", Iris' mother bears an uncanny resemblance to Brigitte Bardot and likewise, the '60's was certainly her decade.

Looking at the daughter, I can clearly tell that she loved and admired her mother. Nevertheless, a parent like this would be an almost impossible act to follow. I make a point of not inquiring about Iris' own work, interests or accomplishments.

The doorbell rings... Not wanting to see her mother's body taken away, Iris retreats to her own home, just next door. I greet the funeral home's removal team at the door. From the foyer, one of the men is able to see straight into the dining room where Mrs. M. lies.

Leaning close to me he whispers, "Is she a gypsy?"

It's true, even from nearly thirty feet away, the rouged cheeks, painted lips, false eyelashes and turban are striking.

"No", I reply. "What you see is je ne sais quoi."


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Anonymous said...

Very nice post. ~ tricia

Gail Rae said..., that's a death, and a life, to shoot for!
The "real" Bridget Bardot has become quite a rabble rouser in her later years...I wouldn't mind doing that, either. I wonder what her preferences are for her laying out?

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the read.

Kit Courteney said...

Brilliant post.

Buck said...

You know, it's funny, but you mentioned she was a dancer. Guess I have too much theatre running in my blood but when the funeral home guy asked if she was a "gypsy" my first thought was the term used in theatre for chorus performers who travel from show to show and often work in touring companies.

So, in a way, she may well have been a gypsy and might have taken it as a compliment.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Wonderful story. I hope someone says that about me when I'm on my way out.

dethmama said...

@ Buck... I had no idea that the term "gypsy" could mean that! I'm sure Madame M. would have gotten quite a chuckle from his remark.

@ Barbara...Thank you. She had led quite the life and "left the house" in grand style. I felt honored to witness her exit.

Anonymous said...

My sisters and I washed, dressed and did the hair and makeup for my grandmother's body at the hospital where she died. Her nurse on the floor knew that Grama had died, but hadn't notified others in the hospital. We were all sitting around with her body, her face made up perfectly, nylons and a new dress on, hair done just so, when a lady came into the room and came up to Grama, and asked her if she'd like to choose what she'd like for lunch.

I and my sisters started smiling and laughed, one of us said, "I don't think she'll be having lunch today" whispered (because she has passed away this morning). The kitchen lady was startled, gave a nervous laugh and backed out of the room. We felt that Grama would have thought that was pretty funny, as she was a jokester, but always elegant and pretty.

Her nurse and a couple other nurses came to see her, and they agreed, she looked lovely, as if she had gotten ready for a family party, and just laid down to rest for a bit prior to leaving.