Yesterday my 92-year-old lunch companion went home; tomorrow her 94 year old room mate leaves also. I don’t even know their names but I will miss them. It has been a humbling experience observing them tackling adversity with positivity and courage. Their main problem is not immobility or illness: it’s loneliness and family insensitivity
Over our post lunch coffee today my 94-year-old friend poured out all her worries and sadness. She is clear-minded, but softly spoken with a broad dialect, so I struggled to understand at times. She had referred to her family before, so I knew there were problems about inheritance (how French), a hostile daughter in law, a suicidal grandson, and children and grandchildren who made no effort to visit or telephone. Now I learnt more.
Her husband had a modest job – I think he was a primary school teacher – but they struggled together to buy two hectares of land in Florensac (in the department of Hérault), built a little house on it and spent many happy days there. But later the source of much of the grief. After her husband died, my friend found the costs of maintaining this property too much. The youngest of her three sons offered to buy it ‘en viager’. This is a procedure in France where you buy a property from someone to release capital – paying them either a lump sum or a regular income – but you don’t own the property until the seller dies.
[Zut. les ordinateurs! I’ve just seen the last save didn’t work and I have to redo the end of this post.]
The rest of the family were against this transaction, particularly her daughter in law but at the same time were not prepared to help with the costs. This has torn apart the family, the two surviving brothers are hardly on speaking terms. Just before the third brother died of cancer he asked his mother to take him toFlorensac one last time. I think the brother with the hostile wife must have been living at Florensac, as my friend had to battle for them to allow the dying son to visit.
Then there are the grandchildren who cause her anguish. One, now aged 32, has suffered from depression for five years, since his girlfriend left him, and recently attempted suicide for the fourth time. Another was born with learning difficulties, was very late talking, can hardly read and is angry and frustrated by his difficulties which are in obvious contrast to his sister, who despite their modest means has made it to the equivalent of tax inspector. He faces a life mainly in institutions because he is prone to be violent.
Phew, that was a lot of sadness to take in this afternoon. And most unusual, since she puts on a cheerful, uncomplaining face in public. How lovely it would be if her sons and grandchildren could find a way to see her, or at least talk t her, ore often. She, however, is too proud to ask them.