— July 200-
Dear Roy, Janet, Archie, Heather and Innes,
I am so sad and sorry to hear of Richard’s death. Thank-you for letting me know; I very much appreciate your consideration at this dreadfully difficult time.
In a way I suppose I wasn’t surprised; Richard has been so unwell the last couple of years that I have been half – or at any rate a quarter – expecting such a call any time these past eighteen months. But I was shocked, the kind of shock where your mind starts playing tricks on you. All Sunday, I kept finding myself heading for the phone to call him and say, ‘Guess what, I’ve been speaking with Janet and you’ll never believe the story she was telling me…’
I’m going to miss him terribly. I doubt I’ll ever meet anybody else whose sense of humour chimes quite so closely with mine. Richard never seemed fazed by my obscure jokes; indeed, he usually went one better and capped them. It doesn’t seem credible that there will be no more of our daft conversations in future.
The last time I spoke to him, just before he went into hospital, we were talking about his visit to Heather in August, and planning to meet up. At our last meeting, Eldest was only a fourteen-week, barely visible bump (I remember I was still in non-maternity clothes, although my waistbands were beginning to pinch). Richard always seemed to like hearing about E and his funny doings, and told me all about Isabelle and Odile and how he was receiving hand-drawn birthday cards these days, so I was looking forward to introducing E to him. I still don’t think I’ve quite taken in that they’re never going to meet.
I have heard it said that a person isn’t really gone until the echoes of their actions die out in the world; until the bread that she baked has been eaten, the clock that he wound has run down. If so, as long as I enjoy listening to complex music that I wouldn’t otherwise have attempted to understand; every time I look up at buildings and notice details, instead of walking along like most people with my eyes fixed on the pavement; and most of all, as long as I remember that courage is not necessarily about sudden spectacular action, but can consist of doggedly carrying on – and on – trying to do ordinary things in the face of ever-present, extraordinary obstacles, then Richard, who taught me, will still be here. And if, as I would hope to, I can teach E a little of the same things, maybe Richard will be here even when I am not. Still, the world is a great deal poorer without him, although I am immeasurably richer for having known him.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve no intention of turning Richard into a plaster saint. Heaven knows he could be prickly and unapproachable; get right up people’s noses and be a complete pain in the backside (that’s the sort of mixed metaphor he always laughs at me for). And on a bad day, he could be a world-class moaner – but then he had an unfairly large share of material to work with. On the good days he was charming and amusing, and everybody I know who got to see that side of him remembers him with affection and admiration.
I enclose copies of a couple of photographs, which I hope you will like to have. They epitomise for me the two sides of Richard as I shall remember him – the introspective artist and the cheerful (and always immaculately, if sometimes eccentrically, -dressed) nutter.
One last thing, which I mention with some hesitation. Many years ago, Richard told me that when he died, he would prefer to be buried rather than cremated, and that he would like a headstone carved from a local stone which would weather into illegibility over a hundred years or so. That way, he said, there would be somewhere for people who had loved him to go and visit, and when there was no-one who remembered him, the stone would gradually disappear. I realise, of course, that he may since have changed his mind, and left alternative instructions accordingly; and that equally you may have made other arrangements which will suit you better. I mention it only in case it may be helpful; if it is not, please ignore it and forgive me for bringing it up.
Please accept my sympathy as you go about saying goodbye to Richard. I’m not coping very well, so it must be so much harder for you.