We met our closest neighbours the very day we bought «Les Tertres». They were obviously wonderful people, old enough to be our parents. Little did we know though that this meeting would lead to an extraordinary relationship based on unconditional love and support during the 20 years to come.
Henri was retired. He had spent most of his life travelling all around the world as a chief steward in the merchant navy. Yvonne had stayed at home to raise their four children in a charming cottage that once had been her family farm house.
From time to time when she’d feel too lonely and his ship would spend a few days in a french harbour, she’d go there by train and stay a few days with him.
The ship would leave and she’d come home, waiting for him again. Usually, he’d be sailing for 4 months and then he’d come home and spent 2 months with his family. And then back again...
The children grew up. They got good jobs, then got married and had children. They all lived not very far from their parents’ home. They spent a lot of time with them, children and grand-children.
It did not take very long until we got «adopted» by Henri and Yvonne. Henri had offered to watch over our house in-between school holidays and Yvonne gave us her love and friendship. Well, so did Henri, of course. Those two were so strongly bonded by love that sometimes when I was thinking about them, they reminded me of those budgies called lovebirds.
I grew very emotionally attracted to them because they were so different from our parents. So I spent long hours at their place... Happy times and happy memories.
They were very cheerful. I’d say they had a very sunny disposition, both of them even tho from time to time, life was not this easy for them and their family.
One thing I was not used to either and I found so remarkable... they never gossiped. And when you live in a small village, there is a lot to gossip about. But, no. They always had one good word to say about everybody. Now I’m not implying that they were some sort of dimwits! They were basically very good and very kind people.
Years flew by... We barely noticed they were getting old. And I imagine we did not realize that we were getting close to their age when we first met.
Of course there were times of sickness, times of worries... But we shared those moments. We were very often there and otherwise we’d get on the phone... So we shared and bonded.
I guess it took me a long time to realize that they really were getting old... This summer, they celebrated their 65th anniversary. We wished them many happy returns but we started worrying.
Yvonne hadn’t been feeling too good for quite a long time now. She was very tired most of the time even though she never complained. Despite serious sight troubles for the last few years, she had been very active but those last few months, she really looked and acted exhausted.
She stayed at home a lot. Their children and grand-children came to visit them a lot and she was so happy when her second great-grand-child was born in December. Another little boy whom she saw for the first time at Christmas.
Of course, Yvonne was always asking questions about «our» children, the ones who had been coming to Les Tertres so many times...
Henri loved the fact that Swee'Pea was travelling all over the world... and that he was still willing to call on them everytime he was home.
Swee'Pea would tell Henri about his trips and listen to him while he was telling him about all the places he’d been to.
Swee'Pea would talk about his life and his girlfriends with Yvonne who was very anxious for him to meet the «right one».
They were proud of him the same way they were proud about all their grand-children.
«Do you remember the first time we met Swee'Pea? He was so fair and curly haired and such a sweet little boy.»
And then they’d smile because they liked so much the older version too...
This Christmas was very different from the start. We were appalled at Yvonne’s physical appearance even though we had seen her less than one month before. She had always been a small woman but she had turned diminutive. She was still smiling but her eyes were frighteningly empty. Henri looked worried.
We spent time with them of course, as usual. We’d go home very sad. But we were still thinking that they had miraculously been spared from aging for many years and now age was taking its toll.
We left Brittany on January 10th. She was in the hospital since the 8th to get some tests done, just a check-up. We talked on the phone every night until Wednesday because she had had an endoscopy (which makes it real hard to talk for some time). She was very cheerful. Tired but cheerful. She couldn’t wait to go back home.
On Wednesday night, I called Henri who told me they were thinking about surgery, something wrong with her gall-bladder maybe.
On Thursday night, I couldn’t get in touch with Henri. I woke up in the middle of the night. I knew then that something was very wrong.
So I wasn’t really surprised when on Friday morning, I got a call from one of their friends. Yvonne had passed away very peacefully during the night. Henri and their children were with her till her last breath. Pancreatic cancer, undetected and systemic in a few days.
I felt like an orphan... I called Popeye who was at the airport on his way to Mexico and I had to wait much longer to call Swee'Pea in LA. They had been kind of expecting such an outcome.
On Monday, I went to Brittany just to be with them, one last time. Her youngest daughter paid her a very sweet tribute at the beginning of the burial service.
There were so many people there, so many. Old and young. And it was sunny outside, just the way she would have liked it!
«Yvonne was such a bundle of love...», my friend Bernard told me when we left the churchyard.
He should know, she took great care of him and his sisters when his mother had breast cancer.
I miss her terribly and I know I shall miss her for a long, long time but I’m so grateful that along with Henri, she made me feel so welcome into her life. She gave me so much during those 20 years we’ve loved each other. I learnt so much from her that she will never disappear from my life, ever.
*Good Luck, and Good Night.*