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Saying goodbye

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I hope you will indulge me here as I share my news and dedicate this week’s writing to my dear grandmother who passed away recently. Having lived 98 years, one could say she had a good innings. But in some ways, the mere fact she lived so long also means she’s been part of so many people’s lives for so long, something is simply missing from our world now that she’s not here.


Affectionately known as Mamou to almost everyone that knew her, my grandmother was what we call a strong Ardennaise woman. In fact all the women on my mum’s French side are pretty strong, and we’ve often said in our family that we would be lucky indeed if we inherited even half of her strong genes. At 85 years of age, she was one of the 50 or so friends and family who made it over to Costa Rica for our wedding there. When she got off the bus after a gruelling seven hour bus journey from the airport, it would not be an understatement to say she looked more spritely than most of my friends 50 years younger! At the local nature reserve, they still have a picture of Mamou at the top of the rainforest canopy, as she was the oldest woman to do that particular tour. Bless her! And it wasn’t only her strong genes that we all admired but also some of her amazing skills. She could make the most delicious jams and was renowned for her apricot one in particular. Her gaufres (waffles) were light as a feather. And when it came to her tartes – whether abricot, sucre, or rhubarbe – she baked them to perfection, and they were simply divine. We would even relish the times as children when she would shoo us out of the kitchen so as not to create drafts for her rising dough, it meant delicious food was just hours away. She always appeared to look the same to me – from my earliest memories until very recently. It is this unchanging presence, this quiet matriarchal force in our family that somehow provided us all with an anchor. A strong thread of consistency in our lives. I didn’t see her as often in my adult years as I had in my childhood but still, when we hugged, I knew that my love of a good hug comes from her, and our connection was always strong. She didn’t have an amazing life, and I know from my mum that at times things were very hard indeed. But she did live her life well and she was someone we all respected and loved.


They say that in the second before our death, each of us understands the real reason for our existence, and out of that moment, Heaven or Hell is born. Hell is when we look back during that fraction of a second and know that we wasted an opportunity to dignify the miracle of life. Paradise is being able to say at that moment: "I made some mistakes, but I wasn’t a coward. I lived my life and did what I had to do." Paulo Coelho


We were fortunate to have some time with Mamou before she passed. She spent four weeks in the UK at my mum’s, and even enjoyed her 98th birthday with us – the same day as the Queen’s Jubilee. Our family celebration was warm and relaxed, and she seemed happy as she watched the pomp and pageantry of the Thames flotilla. It gives us all such comfort: we had enjoyed quality time with her