Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The thing I did not say

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I did not want to write this, for several slightly odd reasons. One is that it is another death, so I thought that you might suppose I was just making it up now, hawking for sympathy. And really, can I not find another subject to write about? Then there is the enduring privacy dance, which is so delicate and difficult to navigate in this age of everything being on the internet. What is appropriate, and what is not? And then there is the aspect, with all this mortality, with these loved ones just not existing any more, where words fall short. I often say that, when I am writing condolence letters. I say: this is the one time when words are not enough.

I believe in words, almost more than anything. They are what I live by, metaphorically, figuratively, literally. They are still a source of mystery and delight and magic to me. Words can provoke laughter and tears, can change the way you see the world, can shift entrenched thought. They can perform time travel: mere black marks on a page can transport you to Renaissance Italy or the furnace of the Blitz or the mannered dance of Regency England.

But when it comes to death, words can be poor things, suddenly insignificant and without much meaning. Admittedly, it is a time when the poets come into their own. When Auden stopped all the clocks, or Larkin said that all that will survive of us is love, there was the falling relief of a universal truth. But still: the end of a life is very big, and words are very small.

In the end though, I am going to say the thing, partly because I am in a state where I can only write what is true, and partly because, after thinking of it for three days, I wanted to mark it. It is why there are condolence letters and obituaries and granite stones engraved with long-forgotten names.

So: my cousin J died on Saturday. He was a lovely, tall, funny man. He was stupidly young, only in his fifties. He was brilliantly clever, dry, wry, witty, and not quite like anyone else. He made me laugh a lot. He was very much loved by many, many people, and it seems stupid and wrong that he is gone.

He was the brother of my Beloved Cousin, the one with whom I stay when I am in the south. The three of us had lunch just before Christmas. We drank white wine and made jokes and gossiped and spoke hardly a word about the elephant in the room. He was rail thin from illness, but wonderfully elegant, and he looked down the barrel of mortality with as much grace and courage and elan as if he were playing in a high stakes poker game. I am sad and filled with regret that he had to fold his final hand.

My older brother remembers him from school. 'What was he like as a boy?' I ask.

'Oh,' says the brother, starting to smile. 'Wonderful. Everyone loved him. Even the housemasters loved him.'

The younger brother calls, on the Skype, all the way from Bali. I tell him the news.

'Oh no,' he shouts, furiously, from three thousand miles away. 'Not J. He was such a lovely man.'

He was a lovely man, and he made us laugh, and we remember him well.


Today's pictures:

These are from a few days ago. I wanted you to see the peonies in their pomp:

11 May 1

11 may 2

11 May 3-1

And the tulips too:

11 May 3

11 May 4

11 May 5

These are from my garden today:

11 May 7

11 May 8

11 May 9

11 May 10

11 May 10-1

11 May 11

11 May 12

I love all those greens. I lay on the lawn this afternoon with the Pigeon, feeling the mossy grass under me. As I raised my head, and looked south, this is what I saw:

11 May 12-1

11 May 13

My lovely dog:

11 May 19

I just cooked the very first of the new season asparagus, and ate it with melted butter. I gave some to the Pigeon. It turns out she loves asparagus. I thought: yes, that's more vitamins getting into you. I discussed supplementing her diet with the Older Niece and the Man in the Hat a couple of days ago. The MITH looked at me thoughtfully.

'I see,' he said. 'Your plan is to keep her alive forever.'

'Yes,' I said. 'That is my plan.'

That is my damn plan.

And today's hill:

11 May 20

You may have noticed that the angle has been slightly different in the last few days. This is because the neighbour has put up his shed. Despite my fears, it is actually a small and charming structure, and if I lean a bit to my right, I can still see my dear hill from my door.

I want to put a PS, which may or may not be necessary. I keep wanting to apologise, that the blog has gone rather melancholy lately, for obvious reasons. When I started it, I wanted it to be a light, antic, adding to the sum total of human happiness kind of thing. One of the dear readers recently wrote the kindest comment: he said that it made him smile each morning. I'm afraid it is not making anyone smile much, just now. I thought of stopping, but it turns out I do want to write all this stuff. It is curiously therapeutic.

But I realise that it might not be what you signed up for.  Part of me knows that I do not have to say sorry for that, because you are such a fine and understanding and kind readership. From the comments you leave, I know that many of you know all about this, and I hope you might find some chiming note of recognition in these posts. Part of me, the more irrational part, wants to say: bear with me, until the light comes again.


  1. Tania, words ARE everything. And your words are wonderful. I look forward to your posts above all others that I read and save them for my bus ride home from work. Just lately I've cried quite a lot at some of your posts - I feel so sad for you - yet I still enjoy the beauty of your words.

    I can't even imagine how awful you're feeling at the moment, but I hope that knowing your words bring joy to me is a teensy help.

    Jane xx

  2. Gorgeous, gorgeous Pigeon. That's all I can say, really, because the words are stuck in my throat. Again, I'm so sorry for your loss; it's a phrase, a well-meaning phrase but still just a phrase. I don't know about you, but words make me angry; at times like you are going through now, I feel badly let down by them. No amount of eloquence lessens the pain. You, who have eloquence is spades, must feel this keenly.

    All the best and take care.

  3. *in* spades. Argh!

    Sorry, long day subbing idiot rag.

  4. Your peonies were truly stunning and bursting with love.

    I feel honoured to have seen them.

    Today's portrait of the Pigeon is hauntingly beautiful and sad.

    I feel for you and her.

    Buy lots more asparagus. For her, and for you.

    Cristina xx

  5. Make me smile? No. But I adore your writing and can find plenty to enjoy in this post. Please continue to share for as long as you wish to.

  6. Bear with YOU!?!
    I don't know how you can bear all this death and in such a short span of time.
    Tania, you are amazing.
    I really appreciate that you continue to write through all of this. Please, please, please don't apologize for this. Ever.

    XX Pat

  7. I am not sure what any of us signed up for but what we get is quality and observation and depth and beauty, and that ache I get when I read something so beautifully expressed that it almost hurts. That is the power of words. Lou x

  8. Well it's not making me smile at the moment because I'm crying again. Life seems so bloody unfair for you at the moment Tania. Anyway, I don't always want sunshine and giggles. I'd rather have truth, honesty, beautiful writing and stunning pictures and I know I'm guaranteed that with each and every one of your posts, no matter what the subject.

  9. May I say that your light is still shining if that doesn't sound too mawkish.

  10. All of us who read your blog every day don't do it because we need a laugh, although quite often we have been given that-- we do it because we love what you have to say, and how you say it. We do it because you have added to the sum total of human happiness by giving people from Sri Lanka to Seattle one more person to care about in the world, and caring about us all, even abstractly, in your turn. I think I sound sappy and I'm not sure I make much sense but I hope you know what I mean.

  11. And that's three...

    Even when your words are sad, they're so beautifully written and they speak of real life. We all go through sad times as well as happy and sharing them is part of what keeps us going. I hope our comments do help in some small way.

  12. So sorry to hear about your cousin; why is it always the best people who are stolen from us in this way?
    I feel as if I am living in some parallel universe to yours at the moment... I lost my mother in mid-March, my beloved dog two weeks later, and my uncle (my mother's brother) 4 weeks after that. As I am half Irish, I believe that these things come in threes; I hope that is the case for you too, and that some joy will soon return to your life.

  13. not as single spies but as battalions. I'm so sorry to hear about all of this. A blog is - and should be - a deeply therapeutic space: one of the wonders of t'internet for me is discovering the kindness and sympathy of perfect strangers.
    Anyway, may light perpetual shine upon them, and may - please God - the battalion march off over that hill, never to be seen again.

  14. You apologise for not "... adding to the sum total of human happiness". According to a dictionary definition I've just looked up, happiness "results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good". In your words and your photographs, we, your readers, are privileged to attain what we consider good every day. It doesn't need to be full of laughter (although it often is). The beauty, the thanksgiving, the reality, the humanity make us happy to be with you, even when we're weeping over our keyboards.

    For this latest blow: bugger, bugger, bugger. I can only scream at the stupidity of the universe, and wish you the strength and support you need, and the comfort of all that surrounds you.


  15. Your flowers are beautiful and so are your words.
    Such sadness, I'm sorry for you, your family, and your darling Pigeon x

  16. Can't tell you how touched I am by yr lovely comments. Each and every one really is a tremendous balm to my rather battered heart. And actually you make me think that perhaps I was wrong about words, and that it is not just the poets who can lighten the spirit in the face of loss. Thank you. x

  17. They do come in threes, don't they? Deaths, I mean. And here you have a third and, please, the mending can begin. The thing is, you seem to see it rather more clearly than perhaps even you realize. But then Tania Kindersley is no flibbertigibbet, is she? She's a sturdy Scot with a squishy center who's been pummeled pretty badly; however, she's set us all a grand example, and we thank her for that. You're a peach, and I wish we could make all the pain go away. Be kind to yourself...and the lovely Pigeon.

  18. Dear Tania,

    Firstly - words, especially beautifully chosen and composed words like yours - make the world of difference (except when you simply cannot find the right ones to express the amount of sympathy and sorrow you are feeling for someone, which is my current state upon reading your latest news).

    My own personal situation is that I am currently living away from everything and everyone that I love, in an entirely alien environment because of my husbands work. I do not know how long we will be here, or when I when I will be able to travel home to see my family again, so as you imagine it's pretty miserable.

    But, reading your blog makes such a difference to my days. I get to see your beautiful environment through your photo's, and it really does give me such a lift. And regardless of what topic you choose, your prose is elegant and eloquent, and reminds me that there is intelligence and beauty in the world!!

    I guess my point in telling you this is please don't ever think you shouldn't write about a topic because it might be unpalatable to some. Write about what comes from your heart, and it can never ever be wrong.

  19. I cannot begin to even say the words - it seems so trite or trivial to say that I am sorry. But, it is so. I am sorry and sad.

  20. Dear Tania, I totally understand what you mean about your blog being melancholy at the moment but you know what? people like to understand about what it feels like to experience the more painful side of life. It's all fine and good to share the frivolity and laughter but the depth in your soul needs expression too. and you do it so well. I think the ability to allow the different dimensions of life to co-exist is a skill in itself and one the joys of reading your blog and, of course, your book is your wonderful ability to do that. so well done and much love to you at such a sad time.. x Alex

  21. Oh dear, we all so enjoy what you have to say... you have had a dreadful time, but there is some comfort,I hope, in knowing how much we all really care about you.

    You are generous enough to share your thoughts with us - by the way, the flowers were beautiful such a lovely tribute.

    You're right, it is so difficult: words are so small (seemingly) for the big events. I dimly remember Oscar Wilde saying something along the lines of being the Lord of Words, but when his Mother died he had no words...

    Love from Sue and Tia (exceptional dog).

  22. And really, that is your three + god knows that is enough, if not already too much. I am so very sorry for all this sadness. I lost a friend who sounds very like your cousin + the only way I can deal with it is to think how lucky we were to have had him even at all.

  23. You are in the wars at the moment. I admire your strength.

    Helena xx

  24. Dear Tania, Oh God! That's terribly sad news.

    I'm finding your words therapeutic. I have nothing to add apart from please be kind to yourself, you're so wonderful. Much love, C xx


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