A Letter to Papounet.

Check, Papounet....Little My playing with you last summer.

Check, Papounet….Little My playing with you last summer.

Dear Papounet,

Since you passed away, I keep finding myself talking to you out loud. The stray cat you used to feed comes running every time, and your neighbours must think I’m one can short of a six-pack as I chat with thin air. I’m writing to you on my blog, because you were a regular reader – you even wrote “MM” on the last envelope I received from you. Knowing you, you are already hooked up to St Peter’s internet router with a glass of punch in your hand, because that’s the kind of person you were.

I hope that you found your eulogy acceptable. I wrote my own eulogy for fun once, but I never thought I’d have to write a real one – why did it have to be for you? None of us wanted corny, tear-jerking crap, so I put a dose of MM humour in there, and we managed to raise a laugh at your funeral. I’m sure that the vicar will get over it. (That, and the assorted platters of cold meat we cheerfully offered him afterwards – the resident font frog nearly keeled over with shock, and we had to revive her with a glass of orange juice. In all the kerfuffle, we had forgotten that it was Good Friday. I can hear you laughing from here.)

Grief is a weird thing – we’re new at this game. I You’ve been gone for exactly thirteen days, and the feelings are still raw. Your favourite magazines are still in a neat pile, and your armchair has been literally shouting into the room for attention. Nobody has moved your favourite cup. Everything has changed, yet in appearance, nothing has changed. Life appears to be suspended in mid-air, waiting for you to walk back in and slam the door.

Yesterday, the wind whipped through the olive branches as I pegged the laundry out to dry, coaxing a silver ripple out of the leaves on its journey to freedom. I pulled the flannel from the tangled pile, and the tears welled up.

I angrily wiped them away and lectured myself. Who cries for a flannel?

I do.

I’ve become an emotional crumple zone. PF had been surprised to see me cry when I saw the pot of your favourite jam sitting on the breakfast table. Ordinary, everyday things now spark off a wave of feelings – inanimate objects have suddenly and inexplicably started yelling your name at me, whispering memories into my ear.

Like the flannel. I pegged it on the line and stared at it. The last time I had held it, I was joking with you in the hospital room. I had taken the flannel, a basin of hot water, some soap and the nail clippers, and took care of your feet. As I trimmed your toenails, you recounted the history of the scars on your toes. A nurse came in, and you asked her to take me on. I enquired if there was anyone she didn’t like on the ward today, and offered her the nail clippings to put into their coffee. She declined. You grinned.

Shortly afterwards, PF called and asked me to give you a hug and a kiss. So I carefully snuggled up on your shoulder and you put your arms around me. I kissed the warmth of your neck, and told you that it was from your son. Then I blew a gentle raspberry on your skin, and it tickled. You laughed out loud. I stood up, took my bag and promised that I would return with PF and your grandchildren, and you promised that you would wait for us. I turned in the doorway and told you to fight, flexing my biceps. You pulled a face, and did likewise. I blew you a kiss, and you said good-bye. I cried on the motorway – you had never called me “ma fille” – “my daughter” – before that day.

I kept my promise, and you kept yours. It will take us some time to adjust to life without you. For the moment, life is a bowl of toenail clippings – you would have enjoyed learning that expression. I’m proud to have known you, Papounet… and I know you’re still here with us.

Love,

MM.

A Resounding Silence.

The sun tried its best to pierce its way through the heavy clouds that were brooding over the graveyard. Starlings argued in the bare branches of the tree nearby, an irreverent yet timely reminder of life. A sudden gust of wind blew across the line of children, ruffling their hair. One of the boys absent-mindedly ran his fingers through his fringe, then scuffed at the gravel with the point of his shoe.

“Where shall we put it?” The girls moved forward and gently moved two wreaths apart to make room for the plant. Crouching down, they slid the flower-pot on to the tomb, then placed the handwritten card in the leaves and stepped back, feet crunching on the gravel.

Six pairs of eyes looked down at sneaker-covered feet, then up towards the soft, grey, impenetrable sky. I did likewise – like them, I could not bring myself to focus on the sea of white flowers before me. How I wished the sky had been blue. How I wished that the sky had brought more hope that this.

The momentary silence was uncomfortable. Eleven-year-olds are never this silent, and one of the boys answered their unspoken need to justify it by clearing his throat and quietly saying, “I guess it’s time for a minute of silence”. Heads nodded, hands were clasped  together.

Silence ensued. The silence of six children contemplating another child’s grave is unlike any other. It was at this moment that I understood the concept of a “resounding” silence; by definition, silence is devoid of noise, yet silence can speak volumes. The children’s silence communicated so much – feelings and emotions tumbled out of that silence and seeped into me through each and every pore.

The silence spoke. It said that the children had taken yet another step into the hard reality of life, a reality that we parents try to protect them from for as long as we can. It explained that their rounded, pre-teen shoulders were feeling the unfamiliar weight of sadness. The silence reassured me, telling me that they were more mature and more resilient than I had imagined. It was a sad silence that expressed their feelings for the friend who had lost his little brother. It was an angry silence that screamed that life was unfair. It was a frightened silence that asked fate to spare them from the same experience in the future. And a comforting silence that wrapped itself around them and embraced their friendship.

In this roaring silence, a tiny, isolated sound caught my attention. Then another. Light, crisp, clean, almost imperceptible. I would never have heard this sound without the silence. The children noticed the sound too, and their eyes sought its source. The sky had stopped brooding, the tension had disappeared. The first raindrops were falling gently on the ribbons decorating the wreaths.

A voice interrupted the silence. “Ok, I think that’s enough. Wow, it felt like ten minutes.” A nervous giggle rippled through the group. Then they moved. Shoulders were squared, their faces cleared, and determined expressions replaced the worry that had been there seconds before. “Right. Where are we taking him to cheer him up?”

The silence was over.

Post written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: the sound of silence.

Daily Prompts: Writing my own eulogy.

Daily post at WordPress set the tone today: “Write your own eulogy!” I’m game for a try….. Here’s mine! For more ideas from other bloggers, have a look at

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/daily-prompt-eulogy/

We are gathered here today to pay our last respects to MM.  I am glad to see that you have all come in fancy dress and brightly coloured socks, as requested by the deceased. Her children will nominate the three prize-winners at the end of the ceremony. Please deposit all packets of salted peanuts in the collection box on your way out for her chosen charity, Peanut Addicts Anonymous. Following the wishes of the deceased, her ashes will  be placed inside a Picon bottle and laid to rest in Mutzig, Alsace.

The silence in the village since MM left this world has been astounding. Not only does the neighbourhood now hear birdsong and the wind in the leaves, they also clearly hear the neighbours arguing now that she is no longer there as to assume her necessary role as UN (United Neighbours) negotiator. Her gift of the gab was extraordinary, and will be missed by those who used her as an excuse for not getting things done during the day.  At this very moment, God is no doubt sorely regretting his decision to call MM to His side as he observes St Peter attempting to get a word in edgeways at the pearly gates.

We will all remember MM as a talkative, disorganised and headstrong woman whose instinctive tendency to say “yes” often got her into difficult predicaments, whilst her sense of humour helped her to escape from them.

MM made a modest living out of her passion for the English language. A grammar fiend and spelling stickler, she would no doubt have liked to utter the famous last words of French grammarian Dominique Bouhours, who said “ I am about to – or going to – die: either expression is correct”. Such was God’s will.

Despite her great talent for procrastinating, MM did not manage to avoid the inevitable issue of meeting her maker. She left this world doing what we all know she did best – laughing. The dry-roasted Planters peanut that remained tragically blocked in her trachea unfortunately signed her sad demise before her cholesterol level did, proving her doctor right in his prediction that her penchant for peanuts would kill her in the end.

It has taken some time to get permission from Church authorities to play the music MM chose to accompany her on her last journey. She was partial to a little provocation, which explains the 6 long weeks it has taken to get this funeral organised. She would no doubt have immensely enjoyed this idea, and would have quipped that she liked the idea of being kept on ice like James Bond’s dry Martini. Thanks to the unfortunate slip of a coffin bearer, she also had the opportunity to be shaken, although she will stir no more.

The words to the song are being passed around the pews for you to sing along. It is entitled “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and sung by a certain M. Python. This was MM’s favourite saying, along with her grandmother’s sound adage: “Look after number one, because no other bugger will do it for you”. MM was conscious that her choice of music could offend some of the people present today, but had decided to take the risk: just for once, she wouldn’t have to justify her choice afterwards and would finally be able to have the last word.

MM has requested the following epitaph: “Here lies MM: spouse, mother, bon vivant and copy editor. Rest in piece peace”.

I spy with my Little My…..

My nine-year-old reminds me of “Little My“. This character in “the Moomins” is a very direct, no-nonsense little girl with a strangely adult approach to life who is highly independent and sometimes discomfortingly honest.

Although my daughter is not half as abrasive as Tove Jansson’s character, she has a lot of “Little My” about her. Seeing life through her eyes is both refreshing and revealing.

I remember the day I ceremoniously told her that I had kept my wedding dress in case she wanted to use it one day. Her eyebrows shot upwards, then plummeted into a frown. To the delight of her youngest aunt, she retorted with a scowl: “No way! You can give it to someone else,  I’m never getting married! I’m going to live with my two cats. I’ll have a boyfriend, and he can come to visit if he wants – but then he goes back to his house and leaves me alone”.

Last week, Little My and I wandered through the village cemetery on our way home. It’s a little lugubrious, I know, but I love walking in cemeteries. Little My was impressed by the headstones, and was curious to know how they had fitted so many people into one crypt. She quickly started noticing beautiful names, calculating ages and trying to work out who was related to who. We were soon involved in a morbid but highly interesting conversation.

“Have you written a will?”, she enquired. “I’m going to write one soon. When I’m old, I want to be crematified, but only after I’ve died. I’ll give all my painting stuff to my brothers, and my house and my cats too”. We continued walking, our shoes crunching on the gravel. “Oh,  and I’ll leave my nicest clothes to my best friends”, she added pointedly, looking sideways at me.

I got the message immediately. I was wearing the dress, the one she has been coveting since I bought it three years ago. She has already made me swear that I will put it aside for her when I’m either too old or too fat to wear it any more, and casts an eagle eye over the zipper every summer.  “It’s cremated, not crematified. And don’t worry, the day I pop my clogs you will be free to take whatever you want from my wardrobe, chérie”. She jumped up and wrapped her arms around my neck to plant a kiss on my cheek. There’s no doubt about it, the kid rocks.

Further along the pathway, she stopped and stared at a black marble flower-pot sealed on a tomb, the letters “AV” engraved on it in garish gold lettering. She shook my arm and muttered, “Look, mum, that grave’s for sale”.

It took me a minute of confusion to understand: “AV” in French is an abbreviation for “A Vendre”: “For sale”. I attracted her attention to the inscription on the tombstone, and she grunted, “Oh, ok. It’s his initials, I get it. But why on earth did they put them on the pot? Did they think someone was going to run away with it?” I always put her initials on her stuff incase she leaves it on a park bench or someone picks it up by accident.

I hugged her, and we walked on. One epitaph got her thinking. It was over the top, over emotional, and otherwise too good to be true, and Little My said so in as many words. This got us wondering about epitaphs on tombstones. We discussed the fact that nobody has “Good riddance to bad rubbish” chiselled into the stone in gothic lettering, however uncharitable they could have been during their lives. So, said Little My, why do people lie about it? Or do we all have the right to being pardoned when we pass on?

We took the example of Grande Mamie, her great-grandmother. She had always said, “I’ll bury the lot of you”- and as far as her immediate generation was concerned, she almost did.  We both agreed that although it would have been cool to see it written on her headstone, it obviously it wouldn’t have been politically correct. Yet for those who knew her well, it would have been most appropriate.  (I had also suggested using her wardrobe as a coffin to avoid disputes over who inherited it, but that’s another story).

So, Little My asked, what would I want written on my tombstone? Chewing it over, I admitted that all the sappy “best thing since sliced bread” rhetoric would probably make me turn over and vomit in my coffin, and that I’d go for: “I almost made it, but I had a ball trying”. The story of my life, from the Roquefort that fell off my fork millimetres in front of my mouth at Christmas and exploded on my plate, splattering my dress, to my success at combining motherhood and business creation, which I am still working on. And in the mean time, what the hell….. I’m having fun.