Last week, I finally plucked up the courage to erase my grandad’s address and phone number from my palm top. I had wanted to do it several times before, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take out his details from my most private piece of engineering, from my life in names and numbers. It seemed so final.
Last week, I came across his name as I was looking for my uncle’s number. I only have one uncle and he’s my dad’s brother, so my dad, his brother and my grandad all share the same family name, and so it was inevitable that I would come across my grandad’s name in my PDA, every now and again...
Nine months after his death, I was finally able to click on ‘delete’, and pfffiiiu, he disappeared again, just like that. Lost for ever. But always in my memory. His smile, the little dimples on his cheeks getting deeper when he laughed, his large, solid, perfect hands, the little lines on his fingernails, his white wavy hair, his light blue eyes, his strong calves when we went up a mountain, the way he had with words (did I possibly inherit that from him? I’m not sure I’m as talented as he was...), his gentle swearing (‘Et meeeerrrrrrrrrddddddddde alors!’), the way he loved my grandmother, the games we played, at home and in the mountains and at the beach.
This week, a page is being turned. My parents are completing the sale of my grandad’s flat in Nice. It makes us all very sad. Nice will never be the same again. The pebbles will never be as shiny, the sun never as bright, the sky never as blue, the sea never as calm, the mountains near by never as ragged and grey, never as good a refuge as they were for us all, the blue chairs on the Promenade des Anglais never as comfortable, the salade écureuil at Le Squale in Juan-les-Pins never quite so tasty, the sand never as soft...
Nine months – le temps d’une grossesse, as Jean-Jacques Goldman says in one of his songs. I have often seen the link between pregnancy and death, and I see it and feel it this time again. Nine months to accept death, nine months to close that chapter of our family book, nine months to create a thought and feeling inside me that doesn’t make me want to cry every time I think about him.
There is one thing I’ll always be grateful for – it’s the day I went to see him in October last year. I was in Paris to celebrate my engagement to Monsieur l’Anglais and was fortunate enough to see my grandad one last time, three days before his death. He knew he was not going to last much longer (he just didn’t want to), so after a very long silence, in his room, while I was withholding my tears unsuccessfully, he took me in his frail arms and said ‘Je t’ai tant aimée’ – I have loved you so much. He said it as if he were already dead, but I heard what he really wanted to say – ‘Je t’aime’. Nobody in my whole family had said anything as close to ‘Je t’aime’ as he had just done. It made me cry even more. These words will stay with me for ever. ‘Je t’aime aussi,’ I replied.
If there can be such a person in a family, he was my favourite person in my whole family. He was wise, he was funny, he was incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable about many different things, he was brave (he was an army officer before, during and after the Second World War), he was witty, he read widely, he could draw and paint, he loved photography (he definitely instilled in me his love of cameras and pictures), he travelled the world, he was a practical man as well as an intellectual, he was the most complete person I have ever met (along, perhaps, with Monsieur l’Anglais, if I may say so myself). And very importantly for me, if there was one person in my family whose love I was certain of, it was his. He loved me, no matter what, and despite the absence of words, I knew he did, simply because I could feel it. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, and I needed it throughout my childhood. Luckily, I spent many summers and Easter holidays in Nice with my paternal grandparents. And many Christmases too.
I miss him, but I have so many memories to remember him by that I don’t feel his absence so much any more. I am just grateful that I knew such a great man, and that he was my grandfather.