After mum died, I sought solace in France

The death of my mother five months ago simultaneously removed the need for my continued presence in Australia and gave me the means to travel. It also left a sense of loss that threatened to engulf me.

For six decades, she had been my greatest source of wisdom, self-esteem, and amusement. His absence left a pain that I hoped a three-month stay in France would help alleviate.

There were many reasons not to plan a trip at the time, including new strains of COVID-19 and unexpected surges of old ones, a war in Ukraine, a high risk of terrorist attacks in Paris and the changes in vaccination requirements. But, following the generous offer of accommodation in a writers’ house in Burgundy, I took the plunge and booked a flight.

Elizabeth Quinn enjoys a second life in France.

For me, the benefits outweighed the risks. The pandemic has taught us not to take anything for granted; I want to live what’s left of my life as fully as possible while I still can. I took three months off from my job as a political writer to give myself the time and space to finish the young adult novel I started a lifetime ago.

So far, the bet has paid off. At 64, I live in a beautiful 150 year old stone house overlooking green hills and a short walk from the village. But the journey to date has not been without its challenges.

On my first night, a storm of biblical proportions greeted me in Burgundy. I stood at the window and watched the lightning-lit fields. A clap of thunder directly above the house shook her and me to the core, causing a blackout.

The next morning, as I pondered the wisdom of deciding to stay in an isolated place with limited internet access, no car, no TV, and now no electricity, a young woman knocked on my door. It was a district nurse visiting the elderly gentleman next door. She knew my dilemma and had turned on the main switch in the house, restoring both my power and my failing optimism.

The next day, my credit card was blocked at the exact moment I needed to top up my phone’s data, rendering me both unreachable and insolvent. A neighbor I had met two days earlier offered me internet access, vegetables from the garden, and a shoulder to cry on.

Luckily, she’s a close friend of my old neighbor. One afternoon, I dropped off a meal she had prepared for him and stayed to chat. We talked about our love of classical music and he told me about the town 20 kilometers away which is having a music festival this month. He’s too sick to go but offered me his car so I wouldn’t miss it.

I am a foreigner in a foreign country – living alone in a small remote village with no transport and knowing no one – and I have never felt so much part of the community. Five months ago I lost my refuge: now I have found refuge. I feel my mother’s presence all around me, encouraging my spirit of adventure and laughing out loud at my travel stories. And reminding myself that this life is for living.