Endings and Beginnings
Today is more of a personal post friends. I’ve been quiet here over the break, sharing updates mostly on Instagram, which you might have caught. After a wonderful Christmas holiday with my family in Provence and Ardeche for ten days, Rob and I went to Wales to spend the New Year with his family medicines for all and travelled back down to London last weekend to find out abruptly that my grandfather – whom I had just seen and spent time with – had passed away.
It was a shock to lose him so suddenly – over the holidays he was full of life and seemed healthy and happy. When our tribe of twenty was gathered all together he was his usual self: joking around, eating and drinking in earnest, playing with his grandchildren, and he had even prepared a little speech about all the changes he had seen since the 1930s.
And now, barely a day after I got back to London, I had to arrange to take time off work and travel right back down to France to be there for my grandma, my mother and her three brothers, and help organise the funeral. There is an insane amount of things to do when you lose someone, did you know that? From the death certificate to transferring bank accounts, doing the insurance and pension formalities in time, meeting with the funeral care professionals and making a million little choices surrounding the arrangements, doing the same with the church if you have a religious service, getting an obituary in the local paper, calling hundreds of friends and family to let them know, repeating the same story of how things unfolded every single time, and organising the wake of course: ordering flowers and food and drinks like you would for a party, except your heart is not into it at all. I’m probably forgetting some things but I wanted to show how surprised I am by the staggering amount of things you have to do when all you really feel like is be silent and crawl up in bed and not wake up for a week. It’s insane.
More than my own loss, it broke my heart to see my mom and her brothers lose their father that they loved so much, and I really feel for my grandma who now has to mourn the man she spent over forty years of her life with, built a happy home and family with. She has been so dignified and strong through this trial and I deeply admire her. She wrote the eulogy for my granddad and it was beautiful. I wrote a little farewell too, from all of us grandchildren and read it at the service, it was very emotional. The hardest thing for me was following the casket in the village from the church to the cemetery: the finality of it, the realisation that that person you love is in a box and not really there anymore – I felt so broken and hollow not just for myself but for all of my loved ones, it was very hard.
I always aim to keep this blog quite a positive place so I hope you won’t mind me sharing this post, I just wanted to be honest with you about what I’ve been going through and it helps to write things down I find. There were some beautiful moments over the last few days too, and I want to share some silver linings, this is how we move on, isn’t it?
My grandfather was an incredibly smart, resourceful and hard-working man. He lived a long happy life and for a man in his eighties he had all his head and most of his physical strength, which I know was luckier than most. He was as much a self-made man as you can be: he had a tough childhood, losing his mother very young and taking care of a lot of his siblings growing up. He worked on a farm, trained as a carpenter and spent most of his career with the French railway.
He lived for his passions and loved doing things with his hands: he built a big and beautiful house for his family, doing most of the woodwork, furniture and metalwork inside and outside the house himself, which is incredible. He loved growing vegetables and flowers and tended to a huge garden which always kept healthy food on the table and could be traded with other villagers. He was a passionate beekeeper, documentary-watcher and crosswords and sudoku-player. What he lacked in formal education he compensated by reading enormously and the extent of his knowledge and culture was immense: you could never win against my granddad at Trivial Pursuit. He instilled in all of us a love of knowledge and the pleasure of reading the encyclopaedia.
My grandfather was loved by so many people. They showed up in huge numbers from everywhere to say goodbye to him, it was a beautiful service and the church was so crowded people had to stand up to fit in. Also, amid days of heavy low skies and rain from Monday to Thursday, as we got to the cemetery on Wednesday morning the skies suddenly parted and the sun unexpectedly shone as we paid our last respects, it was a nice respite and warmed us all up.
Finally, I loved seeing so many friends and family members come to the wake at my grandma’s house, some I hadn’t been in touch with for years, and it was incredibly comforting to catch up and reminisce about my granddad together. All that support, love and care made me feel that somehow, this is not just an ending but also a beginning, that without death, there is no life lived fully, and that with time, we will be okay. Take care of your loved ones, we often live far from them and lead busy lives but trust me: a postcard, a phone call once in a while goes a very long way.