Life has taken many twists since I last wrote and I have failed to register them, but the last couple of weeks has made me realise that some things must be written because I will, not may, but will forget. It is the nature of age and not a malady to rile against, just accept.
I have witnessed two women of roughly the same age and background react to death in totally different but strikingly similar ways.
One I hardly knew, enough to embrace with kisses on the cheeks, as we do with acquaintances with whom we are on good terms here in the Loire, We had shared drinks with them in the calm of the evening overlooking the valley. Good people, without any real burden to carry. Retired and active, her mother was a bit of a pain, but she was philosophical about that and tended to her foibles with only minor grumbles. Nice country people, nice, good and blameless of any ill as far as we could judge.
One day her husband had back ache fitting their new kitchen, nothing remarkable in that even if he had been fit as a fiddle all his life. A couple of weeks later he died from an aggressive cancer, despite the fantastic treatment given here.
Life in the tight life of the country seems to impose constraints we find strange, but we have come to accept them. Privacy is one of them. I can see why, if you scratch your bum and your neighbour notices, everyone will soon know all about it, so there are things you keep to yourself. Her husbands sudden illness was such a secret and his eventual death was a surprise to everyone except us to whom she entrusted the secret. We can only presume our situation of coming from outside and having no intimate affiliation with families rendered us in someway immune to the wildfire of country gossip. Be that as it may, we were guardians of the fact till his death and after the grandiose funeral, when the dust had settle it was to us she came the escape the endless weeping and tears. She felt able to talk about it all, and I mean all, their life together and his eventual death, with us looking out over nature with a bite to eat and a glass of wine. They seemed to have an ideal life of tranquility and love, this was recounted with the occasional damp eye, but not the tearful wail of loneliness. Just deep sadness. Later she passed half a day with my wife and talked through all that she had not been able to discuss with family and people who she had lived her life with. The more she talked the more she seemed to come to accept what had happened, even though to start with she was distraught with it’s injustice.
One thing stood out was her resistance to all the advise she was being given by all the widows and know alls, to clear out the house and throw away all her husbands clothes. She had taken the decision to keep everything as it was, even using one of his t-shirt as a night dress. She seems to have gained strength from this, she has decided to let him go one day, but at a time of her choosing. Until then she will live with him in her life in the form of all that was him. One day she will let him go, but when they are at peace and she refuses to throw him away. She seems stronger now.
The other woman I have known much longer and have passed many a riotous time with her and her husband. We have visited them when they have been working away and we have even been next door neighbours at one time. A strong business woman, onetime local official and mother of two. Not someone you would describe as feminine, definitely a woman but not feminine. I imagine she was a tomboy and had certainly had her share of adventures. She never suffered fools and could control a bar with no trouble.
We called into see her when she came back to town a couple of days ago. Her husband had died. She calmly recounted how they were on their way to a family wedding in Greece and had stopped off at her sisters down south on the way. They had been to the beach and unpacking the car her husband fell to the ground. Her sister found him and being trained in survival tried to revive him whilst waiting for the paramedics. They obtained heart beat and he was put in an induced comma but as he was slowly taken out of the treatment it was evident he was brain dead. The children were there and pleaded hopelessly to keep trying, but she explained that she had know from the moment she had held him that he was dead. Treatment was stopped and his heartbeat stopped with it.
We had some wine and she continued to explain how she had attended to his cremation and returned with the ashes to spread them in the river where he had always said he would like to go. They had discussed it because he had had serious health problems and there had always been the possibility of sudden death. All this was recounted calmly with perhaps the occasional sniff or damp eye. On returning home she explained she had done here best to avoid the whining of mourning family and acquaintances. And here is the most striking difference between the two women. She started by ridding the house of all his clothes, and possessions without selection. She want’s nothing to rest. I have to admit I found it strange, because it was almost as if she was glad to rid of him as she wiped the house clean of all that reminded her of him. I found it strange because they were a couple very close, not openly luvy-dovey but close.
Then as we were leaving I had to say I hoped she had not been hurt by the last SMS I has sent her asking here to say hello to him, because I wouldn’t be able to.
At this she cracked. She flung herself at me, clinging like a drowning child. She didn’t just cry, she shook with heartrending tears, babbling with an almost incomprehensible torrent of all the pain and hurt of her loss. Sobbing all that she had been hiding since his death and stupidly apologising but she couldn’t hold it back anymore. Choking out explinations that she had been hiding her grief from everyone, especially her children. She repeated the mantra that she had to be strong for her children and couldn’t show her dreadful loneliness to them. I held her for a long time as she just let the words and tears role. Eventually she quietened and just clung in my arms.
I said ‘ Just like him, he has to leave us too soon for me to get you in an embrace !’ This brought a small laugh from her and she was able to smile, gradually returning to he normal controlled self. But was obvious that something had flooded out and we left a more serene widow that evening.
The difference between the two widows if quite remarkable I find. The similarity however is also just as remarkable, between two characters completely different but both lost faced with the realisation of loss. They are both strong ladies and will get through it.