My mum's dad, bon-papa was the name we used to call him and we use to talk about him, passed away 10 years ago yesterday.
Not difficult to remember as he died 3 days after Diana, Princess of Wales. I'd been in London for a few months and the whole town, the whole nation poured into the capital to bring flowers and grieve her. My very good friend M. had come to visit me that week and I left her alone in London for 24h to go to his funeral in the surburb of Paris.
I remember how I felt teribly guilty to leave her behind.
He was to be buried in Brittany, in a small and lovely cemetery overlooking the bay. He was to be looking at the sea, the Love of his life. The whole family drove the 450 km to Brittany. I didn't so that I could get back to London and my friend.
I remember how I felt terribly guilty to leave him behind.
It took nearly a year before I saw his tomb. Bonne-maman did not want any polished marble stone or anything ready made of the sort. It had to blend with the Earth. It took months before the time and efforts of herself and her children (she's had nine of them...) were rewarded with a gigantic menhir-like stone that sits well with the surroundings. His name and dates of birth and death were simply carved onto the stone without colouring of any sort so that you actually need to look close to find it.
I remember him as a child sailing on his boat or going out to fish shrimps and crabs as the tide is coming in. I remember him polishing, painting, diy-ing this sailing boat A Dieu Vat, possibly the most valuable thing he had. I remember him bent over (and thinking about it now, probably conversing with) his raws of rose trees. I remember him at my parents in the countryside going for walks hours on end. I remember him changing the sheet once a week on his old and cherished barometer. I remember him one new year's eve smiling at me as I sipped a wonderful old-fashionly cooked hot chocolate.
I remember his last few years as he lost his short term memory, as he would ask the same questions again and again without tiring. I remember as he slowly fell on the side of overwhelming anxiety and how that could take him to bursts of anger or rage. I remember visiting him in a highly medicalised nursing home after he'd given up with life - his breathing sounded like something was caught and vibrating into the pipes of the kitchen sink. I remember how I was left by myself with him for just a few minutes and how much I wanted to tell him I loved him. I remember how my throat remained tight shut, my hands in my pockets and my eyes dry when my heart was weeping.
Today and for the last few months, bonne-maman has been declining with no particular disease. There have been times when we thought she'd had enough and was about to join him in the other world. It's been very important for me to listen to my needs, go and see her when I felt like it, spend time with her even without words exchanged. I think that the time of words has passed for us but I want to be there to simply hold her hand in mine. I feel that this is a time of closure, of goodbyes, of putting things to rest, of forgiveness towards her and towards myself. I feel that this is a time of healing that goes far beyond her and me.
If I regret the lost time with bon-papa, I am blessed with the time given with bonne-maman. I feel that when she goes I will not be feeling guilty. Hopefully I'll see her in a few days.