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.
These are from a few days ago. I wanted you to see the peonies in their pomp:
And the tulips too:
These are from my garden today:
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:
My lovely dog:
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:
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.