The world is in a hurry.
So much so that we rush constantly, neglecting ourselves and those around us in the process. One day, we realize the future happened while we weren’t looking and those we didn’t spend enough time with are no longer around.
And it’s too late, their absence the only company we’ll ever have from now on.
Aimless love for those who have departed is an insidious kind of pain. It lies dormant within until something brings it back to life out of the blue and it washes over you again.
Grief is the most difficult of all languages, fluency isn’t desirable, and yet the more you’ve loved, the more you grieve.
As my stepmom and I amble along Rue La Fayette in the sun under blue Paris skies, I blink away the tears that are never far from the surface these days. She is telling me how her Stage IV cancer diagnosis destroyed my father, to the point when friends and acquaintances now ask her if he might be sick.
In the space of nine months, Daddy has aged at least a decade, collapsed in on himself, and has adopted the body language of a turtle. On days when he’s at his most stressed, it’s as if he were trying to make his head disappear between his shoulders.
On Monday, I didn’t even recognize the man who walked into the kitchen for his morning coffee. And neither did my stepmom.
The horror of the last appointment with her oncologist had finally hit home and he was utterly bereft, adrift, crushed.
My stepmom and I looked at each other and our hearts broke. Again. Because we don’t know how to protect him.
Much as we’d love to, we can’t: It’s impossible.
Yesterday, I left my laptop closed on the dining room sideboard.
As a freelancer, I rarely take time off, not even when I’m traveling because my income is effort-based and proportional to how much work I put in. Unlike employees or contractors, I don’t have the security of a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month.
The tradeoff is that my work is completely portable so I was able to come back to Europe without impacting my livelihood. Even though my income remains modest, this flexibility is proving invaluable and the reason why everything I do is remote or remote-compatible.
For my family and I, digital nomadism is a lifeline.
Although my stepmom sees me parked at her dining table for hours on end and during the occasional night, it wasn’t until yesterday that she was able to step into my world. Walking down the street, we spotted a place with a quirky name so we decided to stop by for coffee.
It turned out to be a co-working space with a difference. There, you pay by the hour and can avail yourself of everything on site, from yummy barista-prepared drinks to snacks, a meeting room, and even a printer. And of course there’s wifi everywhere, including in the bathroom so workers can “multitask.”
This place turned out to be the discovery I never knew I needed. While many random Paris cafés can be turned into a temporary office as long as they offer wifi, they’re also very noisy.
This place wasn’t. Instead, it is an oasis of calm and both my stepmom and I enjoyed our hushed conversation and walked out refreshed after spending a quiet hour there.
Much as I love my parents, being cooped up in their small condo isn’t always the best thing for anyone’s mental health. Until I sort out a more permanent EU base, yesterday’s ‘anticafé’ will be somewhere I can go and work every now and then.
“I don’t know what career your dad and I would have had if today’s technology had been available then,” my stepmom mused.
Funnily enough, we could see my parents’ old office from the window. They’ve been retired for a few years already after enjoying a long and successful career in the same place, something few of us will ever know.
Is being an adaptable and resilient self-starter something you pride yourself in and obsess about?
I do; my monomaniacal dedication to my craft is a combination of vocation and losing my writing voice for five years after depression felled me. But it is both a blessing and a curse as I never know when to stop.
When I was in Paris for three months over the winter, my father and I frequently butted heads over my obsessive work ethics. Rebuilding a life as I’ve been doing since last summer is a little complex and can’t happen without my putting in an inordinate amount of hours.
At the time, my stepmom was struggling with a new protocol that would eventually fail. Bar a couple of hours at the farmers’ market on a Saturday morning and medical appointments, my parents were mostly housebound for months.
Yesterday, my stepmom and I left Dad at home and spent the day in the city. My father was so thrilled when he saw how much she was looking forward to it that he pushed us out of the front door in the morning and promised not to call or text incessantly, which he normally does whenever his wife isn’t with him.
Not a peep, until we texted him to say we were on our way home and he replied in the most adorable way possible.
My stepmom and I had an excellent time together, walking around, putting the world to rights, and enjoying each other’s company.
When we came home, my stepmom was this rare combination of exhausted and elated, glowing with joy. My father couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear, and the atmosphere at home felt a lot lighter for the first time in a long while.
“I hadn’t had a day out for, well, a year,” my stepmom told me after we got home as Dad smiled at her, looking like there was something in his eye.
She and I agreed we all needed to take better care of ourselves to try and navigate this ever-changing reality with more ease. Balance is key, and I urgently need to find a way of preventing my father from running himself into the ground.
I need to make more of an effort not to lose sight that I came back to Europe for those who matter most.
Working to live as opposed to living to work is a tall order but our lives only intersect with that of our loved ones all too briefly. For example, most of us will bury our parents.
Time is the one currency common to all humans but we often squander it when we don’t funnel the best part of it into work without ever coming up for air.
If we let it, the pursuit of profit has the potential to turn us all into prisoners, especially in the US where greed has been elevated to a virtue.
But true wealth is intangible. It is a hug, the smile of a loved one, a ray of sunshine on the tip of your nose, or caring words from that one friend who holds you together…
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.