Bourdonner: to hum or buzz in French + The sound of wheat


Flower steps
In case you're wondering: my husband gave me permission to write the following story! Here he is with his tattered and sagging sacoche. (side note: the bag has been on its last leg since 2004, and just keeps going and going and going!) Photo taken in 2010 in Caltagirone, Sicily. 

fouiller (foo-ee-ay)

    : to rummage through something (a pocket, a drawer)

Audio File: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the following French sentence: Download MP3 or listen to Wav file

À l'hôpital d'Orange j'ai fouillé dans la sacoche de mon mari. At the hospital in Orange, I rummaged through my husband's bag.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Several weeks ago, after rushing Jean-Marc to the emergency room, I was asked by the night shift nurse to provide my husband's papiers d'assurance. Zut! I was afraid the nurse would ask for those! 

They had to be in here somewhere.... I set Jean-Marc's sacoche on the counter, unbuckled the tattered leather flap and began searching for some papers—the kind my husband would have folded and stuck into his wallet... or maybe in a side pocket? After a few fruitless attempts at locating the insurance documents, I tapped on the glass divider window to alert the nurse.

"When you find them," the nurse persevered, "pass them to me here." As he spoke, he pointed to a little cutout in the glass wall, through which I could transfer the needed paperwork.

"Il n'y a pas le feu!" the infirmier assured me. No, there was no rush. An emergency room visit in France could last three hours or more! That ought to be enough time to go through the entire contents of Jean-Marc's sacoche, which was something between a briefcase and a men's purse. My husband has a mobile office inside that bag! and room for a bottle of wine or two, which he tucks inside whenever he visits his cavistes in Marseilles or Paris or Portland. Finding those papers inside Ali Baba's* bag was going to be an adventure!

Entering the salle d'attente, I noticed a handful of other accidental insomniacs. Like myself, they had found themselves here in the middle of the night because of an accident or illness of a loved one.  The gray-haired woman, seated alone, looked distraught—though the young twenty-something women with the toddler running between them seemed bored. I took a seat next to the man with the dark mustache and beard, facing the pretty young women.  I wondered whether they knew each other? To whom did the child belong? The brunette or the blond? Was the man the grandfather?

No time to play connect-the-dots, I needed to find those insurance papers! Still, I couldn't help wondering what sort of catastrophes had struck the others' loved ones? Perhaps, they were wondering the same about me?

Only a dislocated shoulder, I would assure them... if perchance they happened to ask. When they didn't, it was the least I could do to maintain a cheerful demeanor to reassure them. On second thought, perhaps I looked a little too happy as I sat there rifling through my husband's bag?

Perhaps they thought I was taking advantage of my husband's absence... to go searching through his private affairs? That's it, they think I am snooping! 

After all, no sooner had I sat down in the waiting room than I began rifling through the manly sacoche. Obviously it was not my own. They knew it was my helpless husband's! In their eyes I might be nothing more than an insecure housewife taking a cheap shot at uncovering some sort of double-life of the man who had disappeared into the emergency room!

 Just when I began to suspect—and even invent—a few more condemning thoughts coming from the others in the salle d'attente, my eyes fell on a little piece of paper inside my husband's bag. As I studied the scratchy handwriting the room around me disappeared completely. Gone were the paranoid imaginings, gone was the connect-the-dot curiosity. A bigger question began to form in my consciousness.

Just what was this? My heart thumped slowly as I pulled out the flimsy piece of paper, letting the bag fall aside. 

I read and reread the handwritten notations which appeared on a cut-out piece of paper (wallet-sized) which seemed to be part of an official document; it read:

Je soussigné (here, my husband had written in his name, in all caps)... exprime par la présente mon choix de la crémation après mon décès. Je demande que mes cendres soient (here my husband had filled in the blank line to read "...que mes cendres soient) déversées dans la Méditerranée"... to which he specified "(Marseille)."

I (here, my husband had written in his name)... presently express my choice of cremation after my death. I ask that my ashes be (here my husband had filled in the blank line to read "... that my ashes be distributed in the Mediterranean sea"... to which Jean-Marc specified "Marseilles)."

A few fearful and mysterious moments passed before I regained awareness of where we were in the grand scheme of things: we were OK—especially HE was OK (only a displaced shoulder!), and this was just some sort of carrying card—a cremation card (did we even have these in the States?), dated September 2004, a card that I had not seen before, for whatever reason. But everything was all right. Any such events were in the far future... only, some of us had thoughtfully left instructions in the event of....

 My poor dear husband, ever so responsible! Though I was surprised by the carrying card, I was not surprised by Jean-Marc's instructions. I might have guessed. I only wish I had the courage to write some instructions of my own, and to imagine as beautiful a resting place one day, far off, with him. Yes, the Mediterranean!


Post note: Aside from the sea, I had always imagined we'd be buried near to each other, something that may no longer be ecologically friendly or feasible? Though, I hate the thought of drifting away from my love!


Voilà -- difficult topic tackled! Is this too creepy or upsetting a subject to talk about? Would you be willing to write your burial (drifter?) instructions on a carrying-card? Have you? Do you know what your parents' wishes are? Your spouse's? Your significant other's? Are you too superstitious to talk about it?

Thanks for sharing here in the comments box.

P.S. I finally found the insurance papers! They were next to Jean-Marc's organ donor's papers from France ADOT. In addition to those, I found Jean-Marc's Carte Nationale de Donneur de Sang Bénévole


le papier d'assurance = insurance paper

zut = darn!

la sacoche = satchel, bag

la salle d'attente = waiting room

Il n'y a pas le feu (Il n'y a pas le feu au lac !) = there's no rush! (literally "there's no fire on the lake")

un infirmier, une infirmière = nurse

un caviste = wine seller

Ali Baba (from the popular French expression une caverne d’Ali Baba, or "vast collection of things")


Christine cmkmax
Chris visited us a few years ago and I meant to post her photo... getting to that now! Next time we'll get a close-up!   Left to right: Jean-Marc, Chris's cousins Elizabeth, Heather, and David, Chris's hubby Fred, Kristin, Christine (that's Chris!), and daughter Laura

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What a lovely choice of resting place - the Mediterranean! I'd never thought of that. Having your atoms swirling round in the sparkly blue waters would be quite magical. As a keen gardener I always imagine being planted under a tree - haven't made any provision for it though!
Wonder what other people would like???


My parents, aged 93 and 95 at their deaths within 3 months of each other after 69 years of marriage, expressed a desire to have their ashes spread in water, so we followed their instructions and had a lovely personal ceremony with my brother, his son, my husband, our daughter and me. They did everything together (including sharing a doughnut and a cup of coffee in their waning years!), so this felt so right and appropriate as their ashes were blended in the water.


I've always liked the idea of a south Pacific Island (maybe a lagoon) but would want to know my husband would join me there...
However...since I have become besotted with Paris of late ...maybe a quick toss over the side of the Pont Neuf would do....

Johanna DeMay

Bonjour Kristin,

Recently one of our old friends died at the age of 80. Like us, he was a potter. He spent his last days at home, surrounded by his family, among them a nurse who had often worked with dying patients.

No longer conscious, he still seemed restless and anxious.
The nurse explained that in such a state, a patient needs something to hold, something familiar and comforting. One of the grandchildren said, "Give him some clay." They did, and immediately he became calm. His hands went to work forming little figures. For 3 days his hands were busy, until he died very peacefully. They creamated him with one of those pieces of clay in his hands. His ashes are full of bits of exploded clay.

I would like the same thing for myself. It would be a fitting end. Death will come to us all some day. Why not think about how we would like to meet it? Good for Jean-Marc, and thank you for sharing this story! As always, you bring us into your life and touch our hearts. That is your special gift.


Johanna DeMay
Abuquerque, NM


My name is already engraved on a headstone (not as macabre as it sounds...I'm from the south)next to my husband's. All they have to do is put in the date. We have a family cemetery and my husband is buried next to my parents, my grandparents and great-grandparents, family that goes back generations. Having done research on family sometimes the only information to be found was in an old cemetery, courthouses having been destroyed in the war. I like the idea of lying in perpetuity in such a peaceful place. There is a sense of continuity.

Karen Whitcome  (Towson, Md)

It's such a difficult subject to discuss, face to face. I tell myself often to take some time and write down my wishes - if only to make it easier on my loved ones.

For a terra firma wine man to make this choice really shows how much he loves the sea.

Pierre Lehu

Not sure why you say that Fouiller is only to search in someone else's belongings. If you were searching for some kitchen utensil in the drawer where you keep them, wouldn't fouiller apply?

J Tufo

As my husband progresses through the end stage of a cancer illness I feel blessed that he wasn't taken from me in a flash. After 28 years of marriage I thought I knew exactly what he would want. I was wrong, and I am sure that part of God's plan was to give us this time for me to learn of his wishes. When his time comes, I can be at peace knowing that his ashes will be exactly where he would wish. In the mean time, thank you for my thrice weekly escape into a world that is very lively and a country that has meant so much to both of us.

Bill in St. Paul

Years ago, my wife and I got a call from one of our backdoor neighbor's children that her sister had fallen skiing and broken her wrist. Could we go over and find her insurance card in her wallet that was in her bedroom? Using our key to their house we were sitting on her bed, going through her wallet when her father came home and saw us rummaging through his daughter's wallet. I don't know what his initial thoughts were, but once we explained what we were doing, he calmed down.

Kathleen from Connecticut

My husband and I both want our ashes scattered over the water in Long Island Sound and if I could have someone bring some to France and have them thrown into the air at Mont Ventoux I would, but that could be a very expensive way to fullfil my wishes.
We are both organ donors and have living wills ( which is very essential in the US.)
I know many people who have instructions for their funerals - songs, reading, etc. which I have thought about but not done. I am 64 and when I have time I will do it so that others will not have to second guess what I want.
This is not macabre, just a part of life and death.


mimi taylor

My husband left his body to Boston U medical school and so have I. He was cremated after and I have the ashes, half in my garden and the other half in my home

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

A good story.
You were under enough strain for the crisis of the moment, the dislocated shoulder, to find your husband had begun his decisions on what to do when he died.

On a calmer day, perhaps you can speak together, and both put in writing what you want.

I learned only after he died that my husband had told his parents what he wished, not told me. He died young; carrying them out was such a painful time. Even if his wonderful father was with me every step of the way.

Augusta Elmwood

Hi, Kristin, speaking of Marseilles, I thought today's photo was taken there, with the steep steps & all.

As for Jean-Marc's request, I don't find it macabre or bizarre at all... but then I"m from New Orleans, where going to the cemetery is a social event at certain times of the year. Here, our dearly departed are never far from our hearts and minds.

I think it is prudent to let your loved ones know what you want done with your mortal remains, especially since they will, no doubt, be under great stress at the time.

My husband has already purchased his casket (from a monastery in Ohio) and made plans for his final resting place (next to his great-grandparents in Mich.) and his headstone (military plaque). I imagine it is comforting knowing that your wishes will be taken care of after you are gone.

PS. I think you should both save a pinch or two of your ashes for the garden around your lovely home and domaine into which you have poured so much of your lives!

Della - cooking in Colorado. The whole state isn't on fire but it sure feels like it.

Not macabre at all - a part of the joy of life. I've had my parent's plans for years (80 & 76) and glad to have them. I SHOULD get my plans written too but a more interesting project is writing my obituary - a nice long,descriptive, hopeful, and fanciful one. Something for my family and friends to laugh about when I'm gone.

Lisa A.,Los Angeles, CA

I'm not sure yet...the Mediterranean sounds very nice! But, for now I will enjoy living every day like it's my last!! Have a wonderful week!! Thanks again for a lovely story!


A touching, lovely piece. It's not easy to stay married, especially when your background is not a two-parent nest. But you have done it, and you love each other very much. You've made it through the hard times of young kids and a huge career change, and are now on your way to Forever. Congratulations, and always stay grateful for what you have.

Sue A.

What a lovely and touching story! Jean-Marc has provided you with one less worry for the future.

I have made my plans already, several years ago in fact, when I heard about a company on the east coast of the US that will incorporate cremated ashes into a concrete form. The form will be sunk into the ocean to encourage the regrowth of coral reefs which will provide (eventually) a reclaimed habitat for sealife.

I also have planned for a grand wake instead of a funeral. I've chosen the music - lots of Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley, Billy Joel, and even some Barry Manilow. My daughter is aware of my plans, and also that if she doesn't carry them out, I will most definitely haunt her into eternity!! (LOL) I want my friends to celebrate my life and not mourn my death.

joie/carmel-by-the-sea, ca.

I personally want to be scattered over Carmel Bay. My mother is there, and every year on her birthday I go out on one of the rocks and toss a couple of flowers into the ocean. Two of my dogs are there also so I imagine we would all have a good time. Plus I will be able to play with the dolphins when they come into the bay. Better to make those choices now and let your loved ones know. At least then you have a choice.

David Navarre

My own preference, which I ought to put into writing, is to be scattered over the American drop zones in Normandy, or in the event of legal issues in scattering my ashes from a plane, perhaps in the field that served as cemetery #3 near Les Forges about halfway down the N-13 from St Mere Eglise to Carentan. Being a military historian with a specific focus on airborne history, it would be an honor to join the men I've studied in a place that both my wife and I love. (Lucky for me that on our first trip to France, she fell in love with Normandy!)

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
It's a hard subject to talk about but something we all have to think about. If I have my ashes sprinkled over my lavender field do you think they would grow better or wither? haha

Linda C.

My father had expressed his preference for cremation, so it was no surprise that he had expressed that in writing. Knowing I would rarely visit the state where he lived, he asked that his ashes be spread in an old memorial cemetery near the city. When I heard from his doctor that he was dying, I flew across country and was there at the end.
After he passed, I got permission to sprinkle his ashes as he had requested. He specified "no services," but a few friends came with me to honor him. I sprinkled his ashes around the cemetery -- and a light dusting of snow (rare for the area) quickly covered them over. I was able to fly home with no extra baggage, knowing I had done what he wished.


Hi dear Kristin,
A wonderful story (and picture!)
Your descriptions(observations!) of being in in the emergency room were right on;a
place filled with worry and hopes for the best.
Once again your words encourage us to face what we all have to face:our own death.I don't know at what point one really embraces that there are more days behind than ahead,but finalizing the decision of how to handle things in the easiest way for our family gives one great peace of mind.
Love, Natalia XO


Bonjour Dear Kristin!
I have a hilarious story about my own wish to be cremated. When I was in college (while my two children were still in high school), I was taking a Living, Death and Dying class for Humanities credit. One of our assignments was to write our wishes for our loved ones to carry out after our death. I wrote that I wanted to be cremated and my ashes spread over an area of the Pacific Ocean. I thoughtlessly left this on the dining room table after a long night of studying without realizing what my children would think if they found it! My son found it and freaked out, thinking that I was dying. I assured him that I wasn't and he said that I forgot to put in one really important piece of information. What I asked? The car, who gets the car?!!! He should get the car, he said because someone needed to spread my ashes and (at the time) he was the only child with a driver's license! Kids! Always thinking!!!
On another note, I hope that Jean-Marc's shoulder has healed. I am so sorry to hear that he injured it again.
We miss you all!
Take care,

Karen from Phoenix

Since I love to shop, I have always said I want my ashes scattered over a shopping mall. I would be the eternal shopper!!! Wonder if anyone would do that for me. ha ha

Hope Jean-Marc is feeling better.

Susan Carter (Westminster, CA)

This picture is one of my all time favorites - just love those flowers winding down the steps. I don't think the subject is macabre at all and think we should all put our wishes in writing. It's such a help to those left behind to know what our desires are and I want my ashes scattered in the Mississsippi River & the Seine, off the pont D'Arcole.

Kitty Wilson

My remains while still as fresh as possible are going to the local university for use in anatomy classes (transplanting not possible due my blood pressure meds). A lock of hair will be clipped to be tucked into the soil above my husband's ashes in the country churchyard where my parents' and other relatives' remains also lie. Best touch: husband and I used to go to that cemetery to kiss and snuggle when we were teens back in the early 1960's!!

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Hi Kristi! I’ve had a guest staying with me for the past four days and though I enjoyed her company immensely, I have missed out on a lot of FWAD! This is a wonderful story which brought a few chuckles (loved the cheeky “accidental insomniacs”) and as you generally do, led me to some heartfelt reflection. I am divided between a great love of the land and a deep longing for the sea. I think I’d like to be sprinkled in the mountains and on the Pacific Ocean or the Puget Sound. This feels right and then I don’t have to make a decision!


I love the way you described the people around you in the salle d'attente. I can just visualize their faces in my mind. :-)
Death is such a touchy topic. My husband thinks it is bad luck d'en parler whenever I try to bring up the subject.
Pour Fouiller, it is to dig, to search or rummage through even in front of the people in question or not.


Kristin, your post was touching and important. My husband and I feel that having our wishes in writing is a gift to our children. Although not in writing - yet - I've told them I want my ashes scattered in France - anywhere! When we travel internationally (don't ask me why we don't do it when we travel domestically), we leave what we half-jokingly call the "death book" on the dining room table for my sister-in-law. It contains our will DNR orders, passwords, etc. My father died without a will and I remember the years my mother spent in probate.

Not only was your post touching, the picture is beautiful!

Marianne Rankin

Is there anyone in France without health insurance? Does the insurance vary from person to person?

I signed an organ-donor card when I was in high school, and have kept it current with name changes, etc. At one point when I was collecting donations for the Kidney Foundation, I also offered donor cards to people, and many of them said, "That's too morbid to think about." But one should. I encourage everyone to consider donation. As the saying goes, "Heaven knows we need the organs here."

I eventually investigated being a bone-marrow donor, but was told, at age 58, that I was too old. I would like to see some type of testing so that "older" volunteers might be approved individually as donors; some people should be in good enough shape to do that.

Some people, such as my mother, are too anemic to give blood, or they have, or have had, conditions such as cancer which may make further donations impossible. I've given blood for over 40 years, and read recently that there is a continuing shortage of it. I urge anyone able to do so to be a blood donor - as well as tissues, etc. I've signed cards authorizing donation of eyes and other organs.

It is a kindness to your family, who are already grieving and have a lot to deal with, to state your preferences in advance. People would usually be happy to honor your wishes if you make them known, such as cremation and scattering of ashes. And since we can't predict the future, you should make sure that family and/or friends know what you want, including what type of memorial service, if any, you think desirable or appropriate (for example, church service or not, music or not, suitable memorial donations, etc.)

I have a whole book of notes for family and others to refer to, which makes suggestions as well as lists preferences. It gives those left behind a point of departure.

Kristin, you will be "near" Jean-Marc no matter what - in spirit always.

Martine NYC

I always thought organ donation was too creepy to embrace, until your post a couple of years ago made me realize(duh!) that I won't have to deal with any of the gritty reality of that. I won't be sitting apprehensively in some salle d'attente waiting for my organs to be removed! I'll be at peace. They can take what they like! Now I am an organ donor.
I woke up this morning to the radio and a report that Nora Ephron had died yesterday, of leukemia, at 71. She was quoted as saying that we all really need to spend as much of our time left doing what we love the most. She made a list of things she refused to learn more about: the Kardashians, twitter, the desperate housewives series, a few other things. It's true: what do we have time for?
Wouldn't thinking about our remains give us great peace? I would like to have my ashes cast into the Pacific, at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where I was born, and off Long Island, in the Atlantic, where I bicycle these days and feel so at home. I must write this down and make a will. Thank you, Kristin!

Linda Packer

Love your story -- as usual! Moi, I want to have my ashes (if I ever realize my dream of living in France) scattered in Père Lachaise cemetery. Is that even legal? Anyway, if it is, I'd like half of them scattered near Chopin and the other half near Delacroix. My two inspirations!





Agnes Rambeck

As a transplanted to the US person, in the last 10 years I have been desperately homesick for mon pays de la Charente-Maritime. When I die, if at all possible, I would love my ashes, (mingled with my saved ashes of my 5 Golden Retrievers who would be re-cremated with me) to be sprinkled in the Atlantic, at Chatelaillon-Plage, where I spent the happiest days of my life. If not possible, anywhere in the Atlantic would do.
Landlocked in MN (lakes don't do it for me)

Pat - Roanoke, VA

I am glad you addressed this important topic as it is something everyone should think about and prepare for. It is also the kind and thoughtful thing to do for our loved ones who will be responsible for taking care of arrangements. Hope J-M is better!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Pierre, for your help with the definition. You are right--one can search or rifle through drawers and pockets. *Fouiller* is not only used for snooping :-)

Carol Clark

Voilà -- difficult topic tackled! Is this too creepy or upsetting a subject to talk about?

Of course NOT. People have been dying since time began. Why not have one's wishes in place, and let others know what they are? I want most of my ashes in the family plot next to my husband...but about 1/4 of them scattered somewhere in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and my daughter know this. I will leave her money for the ticket.

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