I wanted to tell you about my friend Felicité, whose death I saw in the local paper today. She was a member of the arty society I belong to, and she usually came on visits with us. She arrived by taxi, usually at the last minute, and she was generally the last back on the coach at the end of the day too. She was a small, rather dumpy woman in her 80s. About three years ago, she sat next to me on the coach and we passed the time of day politely, but I was tired - it was an early start - and slept a bit and read the paper, so we didn't have much to say. On the way home, we fell into a long conversation during our three hour trip back to Norwich and by the end of the day we were firm friends. We kissed each other goodbye, and sat together several times after that (though we didn't lunch together).
She had been an only daughter and her parents were approaching middle age when she was born. She lived with them, latterly looking after them until the end of their lives. She was well in her forties by then and never expected to marry, but several years later fell in love with a man and he asked her to marry him. She told me that her father would not have approved as he was not from the same social class as she and did a manual, if skilled, job - he was a landscape gardener - but of course that didn't matter at all to her or to him. His health was poor and he told her that he didn't expect to live long. They married and were very happy, and he lived a lot longer than he'd thought he would.
Eventually, he did die, and since then she had carried on with life, as one does. What I loved about her was her appreciation of her life, which might have been thought to be one of missed potential. Yes, she'd have liked to have had children, but she'd had the great privilege of caring for her beloved parents, and then been lucky enough to marry a man who had made her immensely happy, and who had grown-up children who had been friendly to her. He had lived far longer than he thought he would, so she was lucky to have been a wife so long, rather than unlucky to now be a widow. Her health wasn't good, but she could do the things she enjoyed if she took care.
I can't at all remember all we spoke of, but I found myself admiring this unpretentious, brave, stoical little woman who counted her blessings and accepted her hardships without complaint or grudge.
I hadn't seen her for a while - we never met outside our lectures or visits - and she hadn''t been on a coach trip for a year or so. I can't go to her funeral, as I'll be looking after the children that day, and there will be no one there whom I'd know. But I miss her.