Famous Last Words


My mom’s older brother Dave had a dream the night before my grandfather died. In the dream his sister, who had died from a heartattack, was in a car trying to warn Dave about something. Dave contacted the family the next morning to tell them to be careful driving. Their dad had a heartattack that day while he was driving and died, in his car.

Dave said he had a tingling feeling that day, like he could predict the future, or felt lucky. At a carnival, he bought a ticket to win a Cadillac, and won. He did it a second time, and won a motorcycle.

When John died last year, there were no premonitions. He died at the hospital on Halloween, in his sleep. Eberhard came the following morning to tell my mom, in person. Laurent was the last one to see him alive.

We’re going to celebrate the anniversary of his death on Saturday, with a party up the street at the Hirsch. John’s ex-wife Mary is here now in Munich, and their friends Tom and Caroline are coming from Norwich. Laurent and his family will be staying here too.

When we were in Lyon, on our way to St Pierre des-Champs, my mom told us a story after breakfast about some people they met when she and Gilles were in South Africa. They sounded like a very unusual family: a brother, sister, and their mother.

The sister was extraordinarily beautiful, but had suffered brain damage from a car accident, and had to be institutionalized. She was also a pyromaniac, and couldn’t be trusted around matches. She loved butterflies, but said you had to be careful with them around fire.

She told my mom a story about their grandfather, who had lost his mind from dementia or Alzheimer’s. He had an orchid garden he tended to every day, and while he couldn’t make sense of anything else, he was able to name each of the species of the orchids with their Latin names, and spell them. The morning he died, he tore up all the orchids and left them for dead in the garden.

On my way to Munich, I started to re-read Carlos Castaneda’s book “A Separate Reality,” in which the author recounts conversations with a Yaqui Indian, Don Juan. Here’s a passage I bookmarked:

“For most people death is very vague and remote. We never think of it.”IMG_2413

“Why not?”

“Why should we?”

“Very simple,” he said. “Because the idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit.”

Categories: Detours

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