Regenerating Julia

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

Main image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

17th January 2024

That the brain automatically seeks to join dots and make connections with seemingly disparate things is well known. We need coherence, want to make sense of things, form whole Gestalts, not just because the alternative is otherwise just a bunch of data points, but also for me at least, so that any meaning made can be more easily assimilated and later recalled.

So it is today as, during my “Yoga with Adriene” practice, the blog post title of “Regenerating Julia” came to me.

I feel that there are so many strands, fleeting strands, of Julia in my day to day that I want to seize, hold on to, and weave into something that feels just a little more solid. Experiences can be so short-lived. Memories so ephemeral. I often want to stand stock still, grab on to the hands of an imaginary universe-sized clock, and breathe whatever is happening in that moment into my cells and neurons.

Otherwise, it just goes. Dissipates. Gone before I can register it. Gone before I can fully sense it.

Just gone.  

Writing is a way I carve out deeper neural pathways so that some of these fleeting moments can find a place to burrow into and live a little longer. I imagine an enormous rabbit warren with nooks and crannies where I can store memories, keep them safe and warm, and later when I have time, come back to uncover and revisit them, turning memories over this way and that in my hand, heart and mind, as one would behold and take in the beauty of an exquisite jewel. Sometimes I feel that I remember something less because it actually happened, and more because I wrote about it…slowing everything down and embedding the experience so it can become more permanent.

And so with Julia, I want to weave a couple of recent strands of experience – both short-lived, both bittersweet, inevitably – into something more permanent. I didn’t want to write two short pieces – just one, but didn’t have a title to connect the experiences. And then, on my yoga mat, it came to me.

Regenerate…regenerative…regenerating…. Julia. That’s it.

“Regenerative” is a word I have been using more intentionally and consciously in my work and broader life for the past couple of years – alongside shifting away from the word “sustainable” (which, to me, has an ickiness and tension akin to the phrase “work-life balance” … hard to do well, forever uncomfortable, at risk of toppling over… too much of a highwire feel to it. Instead, I use the phrase “whole-life integration”). Regenerative feels nourishing, healing, giving, nurturing, loving, calm… and, ironically, far more sustainable.

So my two Julia experiences? Both short-lived moments.

Just over a week ago, while walking my dog with Medjool, heading away from my house, and down towards the wooded lane where we scattered Mike’s ashes, where Julia took her life, and, as it happens, from where we see the summit of Le Reculet, from where we scattered Edward’s ashes (yes – the triangulation point marking each of my three dead family members), Black stopped, as he often does. He’d sensed another nearby dog, also being walked by its owner. Sometimes there’s no more advancing until the other dog has caught up, they’ve had a little “hello” together, and then we can carry on.

As the dog and owner neared, I recognised both as mammals from the village – the biped a young man from Julia’s school days. Let’s call him Théo. Julia’s first boyfriend. They were about 11 years old. Shy, both of them – at least back then, though she eventually less so, and she gave up on the fledgling relationship because although they occasionally held hands, “He doesn’t dare say anything to me; we don’t do anything!”

I am sure there was more to the story than that, and the break-up didn’t result in a total loss of friendship, even though I know the young lad was hurt, and later felt he behaved extremely badly towards Julia through his pain. His mother, a wise woman in terms of interpersonal relationship dynamics, said to me after Julia’s death, how her son was suffering because of the guilt he was carrying at his meanness after their relationship ended, continuing into the time after Mike’s death. Such a tough load for him to carry at such a young age. I did what I could at the time to give his mother words to say to him – that I didn’t hold him responsible in any way, that their friendship was meaningful to her, that I would be glad for him to stay in touch with me.

Guilt is such a heavy horror.

Anyway, as Théo caught up, we walked in step for a while, allowing dogs off the lead as we approached the wooded lane. Gentle post-New Year chit chat – How are things? How was Christmas? How is university? How is his family? How are Ben and Megan? How are you?

I tell it like it is – to anyone who will listen. I don’t say, “Fine” or “Good” unless things are. So I said that Christmas is a hard time. Ben’s and Megan’s presences make Mike’s and Julia’s absences all the more palpable. We carried on walking and talking. I learned about what he is studying, and then he asked, “What are Ben and Megan up to at the moment?” I answered. And as inevitably happens when I talk about Ben and Megan, I have to talk about Julia. We were nearing her tree. I said, “…and Ben is living in Lille with his girlfriend, and Megan is in the Hague in her final year of her undergrad, and… Julia – well – she’s still here” – while pointing to her tree.

He didn’t freeze in horror. He didn’t change the subject. I think he just nodded, and said, “Yes”. A minute or so passed, and we carried on walking. I was turning a question over in my mind – wanting to ask it but not sure he’d understand. Eventually I formulated, “Where is Julia in your life today?”  It’s a question I LONG to be asked – whether about Mike or Julia, or indeed anyone else who has died, but especially those two. It’s a question I have “handed out on a platter” to friends who seemed incapable of ever asking me how I was doing.

I wasn’t sure Théo would understand the question, but after a few breaths he spoke. “You know – Julia was my first love. I will always remember her, always have her in my heart. Everyone I meet now brings back Julia, my memories of her, what she meant to me. She’s kind of the ‘standard’ by which I measure people”. (In truth, I don’t know that Théo said all of this – for a start it was all in French – but it was words to this effect. This is why I need to write these experiences down, and quickly – too much dissipates).

So heart-warming.

So good to know that Théo is not afraid of his memories of Julia, but draws on them – not as a reason for not living, but as a reason for continuing to live.

And of course, so bittersweet.

Wanting Julia to know, wishing she’d been able to feel, this love and admiration for her while still alive.

But still, and I simply have to believe this even when it’s hard, regenerating memories, life, and ways of being in the world. That’s all she can do now. Regenerate.

And so the second experience…another longish story that culminated in a short conversation and action.

For years, Julia’s pile of Oboe music has sat on the second piano (yes – I have two uprights – one acoustic and one electric). What to do with her Oboe? What to do with her music? It’s not every village in France that has a young oboe-ist. A violinist, perhaps. But not an oboe-ist. Despite a couple of times reaching out, to no avail, to a woman in the village, let’s call her Françoise, who plays the oboe brilliantly, I didn’t know what to do. These were not things I could simply take along to the recycling tip. Not in a world of “Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Repair-Repurpose-Recycle”.

Then THREE times in quick succession, over the Christmas break, I bumped into Françoise – on the cross-country ski-slopes, in the forest above my village, and then in the fields out near the house. On the second meeting I asked Françoise about her interest in Julia’s oboe and music. Immediately, she had a suggestion as to where to take the oboe (duh! The shop we’d bought it from – already second hand when we got it for Julia). And yes, she’d gladly take the music. This woman was the person who inspired Julia to take up oboe. A story for another time. Lest I forget it.

And still the music sat on the second piano. Another week went by. Until finally I plucked up my courage, and packed up the music into a bag and took it out with me as I walked the dog, engineering our route so that we just happened to walk past her house. There didn’t seem to be anyone home, not that I checked, and so I simply left the bag of music books outside the front door.

Sweet relief. A resting place, a home for the precious music books. Myriad homes, most likely, for it’s unlikely to be Françoise playing the pieces. Instead, they will go to her pupils, for she is back teaching oboe part-time, alongside her day job, now that her kids no longer need her so much in the evenings.

I sense a parallel with people who so generously donate their organs, on dying, to enable new, healthy life. A form of regeneration of oneself, of one’s interests. Reusing, repurposing, recycling, regenerating belongings, life, love and passions anew. Breathing music and life beyond her own breath and life.

“Regenerating Julia” feels apt as a notion. Pieces of her scattered to the winds. Like her ashes. Like her loves. Like her interests. Like her memories.

But with a little time and attention, I can tend and weave some of the strands into a concept or notion, a story that can embed a little more deeply in my heart and mind, so that it’s not entirely lost.

“Triangulation Point – place of rest for Mike, Julia and Edward” – photo taken yesterday 16th January 2024.

About Emma Pearson

4 thoughts on “Regenerating Julia

  1. Beautiful, Emma. Yet again. You write achingly beautifully.
    Am simply in awe at the way you manage to make sense and find some meaning in the crazy meaninglessness (to me) of it all, and also some purpose along the way, and then record it in a way that becomes useful, not only to you, but to others all around, too…
    A tearful Merci.
    x♥x Tua sorella che ti ama e ti vuole tanto tanto bene.

    1. thanks Looby love – there is no real sense to me either, but I think writing helps create something meaning-like

  2. After reading Regenerating Julia, I am in tears, suddenly missing my husband, six years gone, wondering why I so seldom regenerate him, knowing the more time passes, the harder it gets, the empty place at the kitchen table, the empty half of my bed. I read what you write and so many memories that I thought I buried, are very much alive.

    1. sweet Ann – of course you’re missing your husband. I too feel that the missing, the hole(s) seem to get bigger and harder
      And despite the ache, the day to day gets easier to carry
      There are different kinds of pain – a scale of pain around one person, one loss… a spectrum from a dull ache to ravaging howl-inducing anguish
      Some strands of pain in every moment, woven into every day…
      (I am just back from seeing a beautiful film – La Tresse (the Braid) – which is probably inspiring the “strands” and “woven” bits of the image…and despite how hard the film was, there was a Regenerative theme too)
      Go gently

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *