May 28, 2009

Francoise died yesterday, in the afternoon. At home, surrounded by two of her three children, along with grand children and her husband, of course.

He and Francoise had been together for half a century or more, and you should have seen them in their hay day. They were perfect complements to each other. Which is one reason it was so painful for him to watch her mind disappear and at the end listen to her say, referring to her husband, "who is that man?"

She was born in Paris, was instantly tall, black-haired with a stunning beautiful smile. She grew up during the occupation, with all of its horrors, but do I remember correctly she said once that occasionally during those years she played tennis in the Bois de Boulogne? Her family were well-to-do and royalists, and although she turned away from the Church in her 20s she never quite lost her affection for the trappings of old republics, and some 19th Century prejudices. For one, she was still convinced Alfred Dreyfus was a German spy.

Hardly out of school she met and married a Swiss doctor. Not welcomed by her parents but Francoise was adventurous and stubborn. They moved to America where she had hoped to get a PhD in English literature. Her husband was the love of her life but next to him was Thomas Wolfe.

And then all these years later, after all those fabulous dinners and lunches, after so much grace and creativity. I often wished she had been my mother.... After all that she was alone in that huge stone house with her husband. Who was still one cigarette after another, and one glass of thick red wine after another. So there was some question at the end how to undo that bond between them, so that she could move on.

Toward the end, a shaman was in attendance for several days and suggested that in order to let Francoise go, it might be best if there could be some physical break between she and her husband, if she could have space to leave. And finally she got it and left.

And what happened to him? He has managed along without her. Perhaps, he is relieved. Perhaps, his own mind is enough.


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