Sad days, happy days.
When we were weighing up the pro’s and cons of a permanent move to France, the major negative was the “what if something happens to Barna or Dadad”. As they were fit, active, just turned 80 year olds, I pushed the thought to the distant future, and we took the plunge. This September, the distant future crashed in on us, and that “something” happened. Barna went to her regular post lung operation check-up, and was told that the lung cancer had returned. And had spread to her liver. I flew back for a couple of days for moral support, and arranged to fly back a week later for her appointment with the oncologist. At this stage we were all being positive – Barna is a fighter and had come through 3 different cancer operations in the last 25 years. OK, chemo would be tough, but she had beaten this before. So the appointment with the oncologist was a devastating body blow. The diagnosis was terminal, chemo would only buy some extra time. Barna faced it full on and asked for the truth. How long? Several months without, 7-8 or more with – but obviously not a precise science! We made an appointment for the following week to further discuss the detail of the chemo, and went back to Thirsk to assimilate the news. What can you say? Or do? Lots of tears, hugs and then stiff British upper lips. One day at a time.
Our visitors through September and October were spaced at intervals of about a week, so I was able to be in France for a few days with our friends, then fly back for a week at a time in Thirsk. Rod was incredibly supportive, booking flights and ferrying me to and from the airport, holding the fort here with the animals whilst I spent time in the UK. It was lovely to see our friends and share Quatre Chemins with them, but my heart was mostly elsewhere, and, when not in UK, I just felt a long long way away from my mum. Mark managed to take several long weekends from work and stagged me so that for a lot of the time one or the other of us was at home helping to care for her and help support Dadad. In the end, the chemo never happened, Barna was too ill by then to undergo it. At the end of October I went back on a one-way ticket, not sure how long we would have left with her. Sadly, she died on the 6th November. I can’t and won’t go into details, but, as anyone who has been in a similar heartbreaking situation will know, cancer is a cruel and remorseless killer. The lingering and agonizing decline. The physical and emotional exhaustion of 24 hour care for sufferer and carers alike. Facing the inevitable, at the end it was a relief when she finally found peace and no longer suffered. And huge guilt for feeling that way. The Macmillan nurse had said to me “this is the hardest thing you will ever have to do”. It was.
Friends rallied round in France to look after the animals, and Rod drove back for the funeral and to collect me. Barna had left specific instructions for her funeral, and I think we did her proud. It was hard to do, but I put together a slide show of photos of her to show after the service – pictures that gave a feel of the woman we had lost. All of them showed her smiling or laughing, with family, with friends and in far flung places. Celebrating what she had been to us all. And how she would want to be remembered – not defined by cancer. And that is her legacy – family. She would have loved the lunch we all had together before the funeral – she was the archetypal matriarch and loved nothing more than getting us all together and fussing round preparing food. She was absent, but will always be with us. Barna will be deeply missed, but her values go forward. As one of her grandsons said, she has passed through me and on to them a moral compass. Not a bad epitaph. Rest in peace Barna.
Dadad has been incredibly strong and stoic in the face of losing his wife and constant companion of 59 years – they had know each other since childhood. What is hard for Mark and I, and the boys, must be unimaginably difficult for him. I still feel a very long way away. But, he has already booked flights to come out to QC for Christmas which is lovely. Eds will be here too – his first Christmas with us for 6 years! David and Jess have decided to fly out on the 27th, and Mark, and hopefully Maria, are hoping to join us as well. It will be great to have so many of us together (will I ever stop thinking “Barna would like that?”) In the meantime, I’m going back to see Dadad for a few days next week, Mark and his dogs went up this weekend, and Dave and Jess are planning a visit after that. Then it’s Christmas.
Back to QC
Returning to Quatre Chemins felt a bit surreal. Whilst in the UK we seemed to have existed in isolation in a bubble, where everything was intensely emotional, exhausting and totally focused on Barna. France seemed like a dream that I had had. Something that had happened to somebody else. So it took a few days Back at QC to readjust and regain my equilibrium – before throwing myself back into jobs.
Whilst I had been away, Rod had got on with various jobs, so progress had still been made. During September, Eds had helped to paint another 2 walls of the house. As he has been skydiving and bunjy jumping, he did the ladder and scaffolding work, painting up into the eaves. In October, Rod then finished the final wall, so the house is now completely done. What a difference!
Hopefully QC now looks more like a cared for, family home than a utilitarian farm building.
It certainly stands out – Views from the lake:
In spite of everything else going on, we had some lovely times with the rest of our visitors. The weather stayed generally warm and sunny, so we managed lots of meals outside and even some lunchtime swimming.
Lena and Karl
Hussain and Sabourin invasion
Those pool champagne flutes just had to be tried out!
A Sabourin “trou” requiring an input of the locally acclaimed fois gras!
And then a little nap. Ginger doesn’t care whom he sleeps on!
Lena and Karl were particularly taken with the pigs. As we had found another breeder of Kune-Kunes, this time several hours closer, we decided to replace Tiny Tim. Lena and Karl offered to buy us another while we were over there – so Rod went over to Cahors and brought back 2 more piglets – Jambon and Karlena!
New pigs getting on well with the rest of the menagerie
As the woman had her own boar, it was also a reccee to see if he would be a suitable suitor for our Rosie next year. So Rod arranged a first date for them for next Spring! Talking of boyfriends, the 2 Dartmoors sheep and one of the lambs have also been acourting. They have spent a month in Serignac Peboudou with a ram belonging to a local farmer. Back with us now, we are hoping for some Easter lambs.
The other 2 lambs have been taken to the abattoir and we are awaiting their return. A butcher is bringing them back and then showing us how to prepare the carcasse and joint it etc. We have scrubbed down the kitchen table and stocked up on food bags!
It was also lovely catching up with Bob and Pam, and Carol. A long, mild Autumn has meant that we have had spectacular colours in the surrounding countryside and, again, lots of midday meals outside. Exploring with guests, we have discovered lots more of Bergerac and Bordeaux.
Carol and I spent the day in Bordeaux, trying out the Park n Ride and going in by tram. Not a great fan of shopping, even I enjoyed wandering around as old Bordeaux is really beautiful. Rod and I are going to try to go in for the Christmas market to get into the festive mood. Unfortunately I have lost all of my photos of the Autumn colours, Bordeaux and our last visitors due to ongoing issues with my phone!!
By using the summer house for guests, we have managed to avoid too many problems with our failed septic tank system. Marcus, the pool man, is going to install a new system for us – there is no way around it I’m afraid. We just have to bite the bullet. We have had the inspection by SPANC, and yesterday received the paperwork with the confirmation to go ahead. Work commences on 12th December, and Marcus assures us all will be up and runnning (or flushing) for our Christmas influx. Fingers crossed. A novel, but necessary Christmas present for Rod and I.
And finally – more animal pics!
The pigs have grown curly winter coats (- Rosie lying down for a tummy tickle!)
Pixie continues to go AWOL – this time 10 days. Then, just as we have given up hope, she turns up, thinner but otherwise non the worse for wear, and acts as though nothing is amiss.
Frosty December mornings.