As I was collecting my post the other day I happened to glance at the glass front door of the building. Affixed to it was a small notice. I decided to go and check it out. Often as not it’s a plea to find someone’s lost cat but equally it’s sometimes an announcement that one of the Domaine’s elderly residents – of which there are many – is no longer with us. It was the latter. But I was profoundly saddened as it was one of my downstairs’ neighbours.
When we first moved into the building, my elderly neighbours uncomplainingly put up with six month’s of dusty, noisy refurbishment which included flooding the bathroom of one. It had a happy ending as the insurers coughed up for a completely new bathroom though the matter took an inordinate amount of time to resolve. The lady in question had just turned ninety, wore her years extremely well and was an avid bridge player. I often used to pop in for a coffee and a chat while her housekeeper tidied an already immaculate flat. She would tell me tales about her long and interesting life and large family. She had eight children, most of whom lived nearby, oodles of grandchildren, great grand children and even a great-great grandchild! One of her favourite photos, of which there were many, was of the family gathered for one of her recent birthdays – 84 heads and not everyone was there!
She became increasingly less independent after a fall six years’ ago robbed her of sight in one eye. She had lain on the floor for hours calling for assistance but no one heard her – the walls and floors are thick. Fortunately, her family pop in daily and all have their own keys so she was eventually found after an uncomfortable night on the tiles. Thereafter, the family tried to ensure she was never alone and I’m not sure she always enjoyed their close attention. As she became increasingly housebound, I saw her less and less but tended to enquire as to her well-being, and send her my regards, via either her housekeeper or family members whom I met in the lift and hallways.
About two years’ ago, despite their close administrations, she fell and broke her leg. Lengthy hospitalisation followed. But you can’t keep a good woman down and she was soon back home and walking, albeit not too far, with the aid of a walking frame. It was around this time she started to look her age and lose the twinkle in her beautiful big brown eyes. She was a looker when she was younger and age hadn’t really diminished her stunning looks. She still had a head of thick lustrous hair that most woman would kill for.
She never complained once about her ill-health and was always supportive of her large, extended family even when hordes of them would descend each summer cramming themselves into her large flat and invading her quiet cool space with noise and constant movement. She was far more tolerant than I would be in similar circumstances. Though it’s unlikely to happen since I can easily cram my small family into our flat. Not that I’m going to!
When someone’s lived a full life and dies surrounded by their loving family you can’t be sad. Her funeral should be a celebration of her life and times. However, in the interests of leaving adequate space for said large family, I didn’t attend. I did pen a short note to the family. I’ve written too many of these already this year. I am not a fan of funerals and they do tend to be very emotional affairs in France with lots of weeping and a wailing. Not for them the stiff British upper-lip and, horror of horrors, they favour open caskets.
I prefer to retain my memories of Marie as we chatted together over a cup of coffee and either one of her or my delicious cakes. I hope she’s been reunited with her gorgeously handsome husband and they’re having fun on high: probably over a hand of bridge.