23 October 2009

Qu'il repose en paix

May he rest in peace. Our friend Jean-Luc died yesterday. He was 52, and it was a real shock to hear the news. Jean-Luc was one of the first people we met when we moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003, and maybe the one we knew the best.

He was born in Paris and grew up in the Marais. He lived there back when I did, in the 70s and early 80s. He told me about his parents' apartment on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois. I lived on the rue Montorgueil and had friends in the Marais. J-L might have crossed paths many times, but we never met — until Walt and I moved to Saint-Aignan. And he was seven years younger than me, three years older than Walt.

Jean-Luc's father is a native of our village. That's how he ended up here. As a boy, J-L spent summer vacations around Saint-Aignan. He knew just about everybody of his generation and older, and he was a good source of local history and local color. Very often, I'd mention somebody I had met in my everyday dealings and he J-L would say: "Oh, we are cousins, you know." We'd laugh about that, because back in North Carolina where I come from I too have hundreds of cousins.

It was at our neighbors' Bastille Day party in 2003 that we met Jean-Luc for the first time. He was there with Gisèle, who lives on the other side of the village and whom I've written about on this blog. We spent part of that July 14 afternoon talking with them, getting to know them. Late in the evening, we all went separately down to the village to see the annual fireworks display.

Walt and I ran into Gisèle and Jean-Luc down there that night. We stopped to talk, and Jean-Luc quite naturally talked to us using the familiar tu pronoun rather than the formal vous. Gisèle, who is a generation older, admonished him. "You can't just go around saying tu to people without first finding out whether they are comfortable with it! It's not polite." I quickly assured her that it didn't bother me at all, and that I actually preferred it.

The way Jean-Luc talked, and the things he talked about, reminded me so much of my time in Paris when I was a younger. He could have been part of the group of friends I had back then. And with those Parisian friends, we certainly would never have thought of saying vous to each other.

Jean-Luc could have been my cousin.

One day Gisèle had a serious medical crisis in my car, as I was driving her up to Blois for an MRI at the hospital. It was all scheduled and she was feeling okay when we left Saint-Aignan. But by the time we got to Blois she was unable to speak or move. Instead of taking her to the lab for her MRI, I drove her directly to the emergency room. Orderlies had to come and lift her out of my car. A nurse lectured me about transporting such an incapacitated person in my car rather than calling an ambulance.

I waited for hours, and then the doctor came to see me to tell me that he didn't expect Gisèle to live through the night. She was paralyzed, he said, and couldn't talk. She couldn't swallow and was having trouble breathing. It was up to me to call Jean-Luc, the only person I knew to call, and tell him that his friend was probably going to die.

A few minutes after that call, when I was allowed to go to her room, I looked at Gisèle and told her I didn't know what I could do for her. Her eyes were alert, but she couldn't speak. I turned and left the room to see if J-L had arrived, and I heard Gisèle cry out: « J'ai froid ! Très froid ! Aidez-moi ! » — "I'm cold! Very cold! Help me!" She thought she was dying, and fear revived her. Then J-L arrived. He looked at me like I was crazy. She's not paralyzed! She can talk! She doesn't appear to be at death's door. It was all very confusing.

Later, Jean-Luc met an Englishwoman, S., that we, independently, had gotten to know slightly. Now we're good friends. He and S. ended up living together these past few years. Jean-Luc didn't speak English but he got used to hearing a lot of us talking in English together. I tried to translate for him in such situations, or get the conversation going in French again when he was with us all.

Over the years, Jean-Luc helped Walt and me with various home-improvement projects, including getting our front deck tiled (twice) and putting up a fence all around our yard to keep the dog from wandering and to keep the rabbits and deer out of the vegetable garden. He always did a good job and charged a fair price. He and a friend advised us on fireplace issues, and we ended up getting a wood stove installed because they said we'd never get the fireplace to work properly without completely rebuilding it. They were right.

With Jean-Luc, we talked politics too. He was left-leaning, what we'd call a liberal in America. Our neighbors are more centrists, even right-wing, but in the French sense of the term — not socially conservative, but economically. Anyway, one summer they had a party attended by many of the establishment figures involved in politics up in Blois. Jean-Luc and Gisèle were invited, along with our neighbor who is now the mayor of the village and her husband.

Our mayor is also left-leaning, we've been told, though we've never really talked politics with her.At the party that day, Jean-Luc told me, he kind of sidled up to the future mayor and made a remark about how he and she had a similar politcal outlook. "Not at all," she told him, and ended the conversation.

He was taken aback, he said. Only later did he realize that the future mayor had assumed he was a right-winger, like all the other people at the party. He hadn't been clear about his political views, and it was all a misunderstanding. He never got a chance to clear it up, either, as far as I know.

It was his heart that failed Jean-Luc, and it was sudden and unexpected — his death and the news came out of the blue. He had recently had an accident, injuring himself but not too seriously, and then for completely other reasons he had to have surgery in August. He was laid up for a couple of weeks, and bored out of his skull at the time, S. told us. Of course it was right when I went to Paris and the Auvergne, so I couldn't go visit him, to entertain him. Walt went one day, while I was in Paris.

The doctors must have given J-L a thorough physical exam before and after the surgery. No matter — they didn't foresee this. The heart is like that. Sometimes it just stops. In Jean-Luc's case, he apparently had a perfectly normal Wednesday, and went to bed at his regular time. He just never woke up. S. said she realized at about 4:00 a.m. that he was dead.

Last week, when they stopped by unannounced for an apéritif, he said I should come over for a meal or two, and a glass of wine, while Walt was in America and I would otherwise be alone with the dog. I planned to do that.

Jean-Luc's father, who lives across the street from the house that J-L and S. shared, survives, as do his mother, son, ex-wife, and two sisters. And Gisèle of course.

Walt and I went over to the house last night to see S., to make sure she wasn't alone. Other friends were already there, mostly people we had met through Jean-Luc. And then Jean-Luc's sisters arrived from Paris. His father, 84, came in for a few minutes. Walt and I stayed for a while after everybody else left, saying goodnight fairly late, when it was clearly time for S. to get some rest.

We're going to make a quiche and take it over there this morning. An English friend of S.'s is arriving to spend the weekend with her, to help with arrangements and morale.

The funeral is next Tuesday. Walt leaves for the U.S. early Tuesday morning — I'm driving him over to Tours to catch the TGV to the airport. Then in the afternoon I'll go down to the church in the village for the service. I don't think I've ever been to a funeral in France before. Luckily, I haven't been to very many in the U.S. either. A close uncle's 50 years ago, my grandfather's 40 years ago, my good friend Jim's 30 years ago, my father's 20 years ago, my friend John's in California nearly 12 years ago. And now Jean-Luc's.

I've posted pictures and stories about Jean-Luc on this blog before, but I can't get the search feature to locate them. Walt published pictures and movies last June, when we had a big couscous party. Jean-Luc was featured prominently in them, in his pink shirt. And his waving good-by at the end of that video is quite moving, seen today.


  1. Ken, that was a touching tribute. I'm so sorry to hear about this sudden loss.


  2. Ken, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend and neighbour. It's good that you are there to help comfort his other friends and family. It's so difficult for everyone when it was entirely unexpected.


  3. Sorry about Jean-Luc, he was such a jolly good fellow!

  4. Ken, Mes sincères condoléances à la famille de Jean-Luc et à tous ses amis. Je suis sûre qu'il va vous manquer beaucoup. Courage à toutes et à tous. Martine

  5. i am sorry for your loss of such a good friend. I guess all of us want to go quickly and not in pain, but he was way too young.

  6. We're so sorry to hear about the death of your friend. I remember him from Walt's video, looking relaxed and convivial on a hot summer day. Very sad.

  7. Oh, Ken, I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    You and Walt were good friends to him, and and you're a wonderful friend to so many other people too.

  8. "Jean-Luc", what a wonderful name for a friend you'll never forget...and probably always as "Merci, Jean-Luc!".

    Methinks you're going to needing some cheering up for the next few days...I wish I could help.

    This is an old remedy from my Grandmother. Sit yourself down and make a "Things That Cheer Me Up" list. You may be amazed at how long the list gets. You'll feel better; at least while you're making the list.

  9. That is very sad news indeed. 52 is way too young to have a heart attack, and it is always hard to lose a good friend.

  10. Sorry to hear about your loss, Ken. And it will be hard for you with Walt leaving just now. Try to keep yourself busy. Callie will enjoy the extra attention, too.

  11. Ken

    I was "introduced to J-L" through these two posts:

    Driving a Jag

    and plus the post about him renovating a bakery. Sorry to read that both of you have lost a dear friend who was too young to die.

  12. I'm so sad to hear about Jean-Luc... your friends have become our friends.

  13. Ken, I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your good friend Jean-Luc. It is especially hard when so unexpected and at a young age. Your writing today was a nice tribute to him.

  14. Beautiful Ken. I am sorry for your loss.

  15. A very nice tribute. You are a good friend.

  16. I'm glad you and Jean Luc had those good times together with so many good memories. Also having the video will be a comfort to you after the shock of it all lessens in time.

    One feels so helpless in times like you are going through, being with others who loved the person seems to help.

    I'm so sorry for your loss and that of Jean Luc's family and friends.

  17. how nice to have made such a fine friend. i'm sorry for your loss.

  18. I'm just catching up and am so sorry about the sudden loss of your friend. What a shock.

    Take care.


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