A Day For The Dead
Once again a crowd gathered to hear the names of the dead read aloud. For 81 years the town has remembered those who died in the First World War, known here as la Grande Guerre, the great war. It was great only in the sense of enormous, in that 1,400,000 French citizens lost their lives, one tenth of the French population at the time. The annual ceremony is very moving, and I can’t possibly describe it any better than I did here.
But this year it had a special meaning for us, because we learned yesterday that we have lost a friend. He wasn’t a soldier, except in the battle against depression, and he took his own life.
The flags were at half-mast today for those that loved and lost, and I like to think they also marked the passing of Francis. Ending one’s own life still shocks me to the core, although a startling number of people do commit suicide in France, at a rate 40% higher than in the US. Twenty five workers at France Telecom alone have killed themselves in the past 18 months, citing the meaninglessness and isolation of their work, and the erosion of solidarity on the job.
The first time we ourselves were touched by suicide here in France I wrote this piece about it. In a way I wish I hadn’t written it then, so that I could have written it for Francis.
Because we knew Francis. He’d eaten at our table and we at his. We’d watched him make our friend Marie smile and laugh and relax into a woman we hadn’t seen before, a woman who knew she was loved. He was a hero to us, even though he wasn’t a soldier, because of the way he made Marie smile. I’m so afraid I’ll never see that smile again; the pain in her eyes now is something terrible to behold.
I searched the Internet in vain for a picture of him, for stories of his life, for even a mere mention of his name. But, and this stabbed me to the quick, all I could find was the announcement of his death. He lived a simple life, an ordinary life, and for only 50 short years. His name isn’t on any monument, the single ceremony to observe his death is already over.
When they read out the names of the departed, those we’ll miss forever, in solemn alphabetical order, I wish they’d finished with Villesseche, Francis, so that his name would rest part of the history of this place and time. But since they didn’t, I will.
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