I received a note the end of July from my grenobloise friend Odile's sister, C, telling me that Odile's health had taken a turn for the worse and that she no longer fully recognizes her surroundings. And two months ago, C wrote to say that “parfois elle est consciente de son état, autres fois, elle espère encore” — “sometimes she is conscious of her state, other times, she still hopes” — a sentence I find so poignant that it still brings tears to my eyes.

I have not heard from C since, although she has said that my weekly emails are appreciated. As is so often the case for those suffering from long-term illness, no direct contact with anyone other than a tiny circle of intimate friends and family for many months means that it is easy to be — not forgotten, exactly, but no longer a focus of attention among one’s larger circle of friends and colleagues. This is normal.

I feel I owe Odile so much that I want her — or at least her family — to know that I have not forgotten her. I understand that C is the gatekeeper and conveys as much or as little of what I write, and the photos I share, as she thinks Odile can deal with. I also understand that the cancer has had significant and increasing cognitive impacts, and for all I know, Odile may not even remember who I am at this point. But I will keep writing until C tells me that Odile “nous a quitté” — “she has left us,” which is the French equivalent of our own “she has passed.”

Odile’s situation, along my father’s very recent serious health scare (and ongoing issues pertaining to home hospice, aging, disability, and so on)… has been very sobering. I don't mean in a depressing sort of way, exactly, though I have to say that being here at my parents’ and watching my dad struggle, and watching my mom flailing about trying to cope, has done nothing to sell me on the desirability of living to a(n over)ripe old age. Au contraire. I marvel, however, that despite discomfort and difficulty, and despite the fact that both Odile and my parents do not fear death (and quite honestly, I think Odile consciously came to terms more readily with dying than my parents have — or at least than my mom has done thus far) — anyway, despite all this, Odile lives on, my dad lives on (and much better now that he’s received a pacemaker). The will to live is very strong despite pain and disability and death’s inevitability.

As for my mother, she seems so stressed — not without cause — that I honestly wonder if she might precede my father in death. So far she has not figured out a way to cope with his infirmities (especially his deafness and physical slowness)… along with her own aging and slowly-decreasing auditory acuity. My dad hopes that I can help my mom change some of her habits and expectations. I am armed with some relatively straightforward suggestions that in principle, if she adopts, will make life easier. Straightforward or no, it is hard to change a lifetime’s worth of certain behaviors. I will try — it is disquieting and sad to see how hard this is for both of them.

Well. Back to Odile. I have no way of knowing if she will make it to Christmas this year, and of course even if she does, whether that would be a happy thing for her loved ones. The last time I saw her in person was in October 2016, and I have known for nearly a year that I will not see her again in this life. Her sister has assured me that Odile is not physically suffering, and hopefully that will continue to be true right up until the end. That being the case, my thought/prayer is that — if it is a comfort to them that Odile linger longer, may she do so; but if it is a continuing source of sorrow to see her in such a diminished state, then may she die soon in peace.

I don't know if there will be a funeral or memorial, and even if there is, I don’t expect to be able to attend. I have drafted a letter to C and to her and Odile’s mother expressing my profound appreciation for this very frank and kind woman’s help to me at a time when I was in such great need. And for as long as I am cognitively capable of doing so, I will remember her.

I will update this post when Odile is gone. Update, 30 April 2018: In memoriam, Odile (1960-2018)