Paris, 28th May 2005
I am sorry that I missed your birthday, even sorrier that Constance was not there to share it with you. I am sure we must get used to spending birthdays away from each other, but we were with you in mind and spirit and always will be.
You have heard that my father died and asked how that happened. Let me tell you how it was with him. He was asleep in bed because he was weak. Something nasty had grown inside him and was eating him up. He would have been in pain, but the nurses gave him drugs to let him sleep quietly. He was afraid to die and struggled to stay alive. But in the end he found it hard to breath and his heart stopped. At that moment his eyes opened and then closed again for ever.
Since then I have been finding it hard to recognize that he is no longer with us. Sometimes in the bath the thought of phoning him pops into my mind and I realize suddenly that I can’t do that any more. But it is wrong to say that he has gone, since he still lives in my memory and always will. He has been in my life all the time since I was born. In some ways I am him or at least he is a big part of me.
Let me tell you about him. His parents were poor because his father was ill and couldn’t work. So he left school early to work in a factory. He then earned a degree in electrical engineering at night school. He loved numbers and science. But he was also sometimes paid to be the star singer in church choirs and operas. He was a great dancer and that is how he won the heart of my mother. He loved games and sport. He learned to play the flute and later the piano, took up Spanish and loved the novels of Alexandre Dumas. He was fascinated by the stars and studied them. He was still playing tennis when he was sixty and was the oldest member of his golf club by several years into his late eighties. He brewed beer and made wine at home. He taught me that the whole world is open to each of us, that we should never agree to be excluded from some of it and we can enjoy doing anything we want, without having to be the best at it. Above all he taught me that life is a game that we should try to play well.
So, although I can’t see him or talk to him any more, he helped to make me what I am today in ways that are both big and small. For example, he didn’t like salad, so I don’t like salad. I must have picked that up from him before I was your age. It is the same with grandpa Pierre-Ami and your dad. It has been tough for me and Sophie to lose our fathers in the same year. Constance has lost both of her grandpas before she got to know either of them well. But Pierre-Ami has not left the lives of those he loved. With grandma Mercedes he built the house at Sezenove where we can all come together still. They brought up their three children to love each other and work together. His father made a success of his life, more than his own parents, but Pierre-Ami went beyond him, becoming a lawyer, an editor, a businessman and a teacher. And his children now live and work in the whole world, as you do. It takes a long time for us to build something of value and whatever you do in life will continue what your dad passed on to you from Pierre-Ami.
You still have three grandparents, Constance has only one. You may have other brothers or sisters, but Constance won’t. You are the nearest thing to a brother that she has. I am very glad that you are there for her, along with her older sister, Lulu. I am a different kind of uncle to you from Sophie and Hugues because I did not grow up with your dad and I am not as close to you as them. I don’t expect that we will see each other often, but, when we do, I hope that you will enjoy my stories and playing games with me. You can ask me any question and I will do my best to answer. This letter is a way of saying that I can be with you, even when I am not there. Sophie, Constance and I love you very much.
You are a bright boy and you must have seen that I am much older than your mum and dad. Maybe I too will die before long. I like an Arab saying which goes: I live as if I will last forever, but could die tomorrow. I am very sad about losing my dad, but I know that he still lives in me and all the others he touched, just as I live in Constance, Lulu and all the people I have loved and taught. The game of life is much more important than any one of us and it goes on even when we die. So we really never die at all. It is up to each of us to lead a good and useful life, to put something into the world as well as taking from it. Even now they are trying to learn how to keep people’s minds alive after their bodies die. I have been trying to tell you that it is already so – we all live on after we die. Every time you miss Pierre-Ami you prove that he is still with us, as my father is with me and all those who loved him. It is up to you and Constance to take the family to places where your grandma, your mum and dad, your uncle, your aunt and me would never have dreamed of going. That’s what families are for.
Happy fourth birthday and lots of love,