Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sad news

I just learned of the passing of my friend Heather Dohollau, peacefully and gracefully at home last night at the age of 88.  She only came into my life some three years ago, but quickly became a very important part of it, and it seems very strange just now quite to imagine the world without her. Through memory, her words and her books her presence will remain, I know, but I will miss her greatly, and I won't be the only one.

Heather on the Island of Bréhat, where she lived for many years and which she wrote about often, and where she will be buried.
It was a joy and a privilege to know her, I could say a great deal more, but feel a little too sad and overwhelmed, and it is perhaps not the moment.  She could always speak better for herself: you can read and hear her reading some of her poems, in English and in French, here at Qarrtsiluni, and below I'm embedding a film (it seems to be playable here, though there's a warning some of the content is restricted) made about her a few years ago, in which she revisits South Wales where she grew up, and speaks from her home in St Brieuc about her life and writing.  It's all in French and just under an hour, but is very well-made and it's lovely to have it available, to be able to see and hear her again in her magical home and garden.

A great soul passes.

17 comments:

jo(e) said...

(o)

The Crow said...

So very sorry you've lost your friend, Lucy. My condolences.

Ellena said...

Sadness, a barbarious intrusion into our life. Good to know that it will melt away and free you to tell us more about this precious soul, your friend Heather.
At times I felt that she was speaking for me. Thank you, Lucy.

Joe Hyam said...

Everything you told me about Heather made her seem instantly formidable and loveable at the same time. I read the poems in the books which you gave me carefully and with increasing admiration. I shall now go back to them. The film requires time to watch and absorb which I will find as a matter of priority. Yes a loss indeed even for someone who never had the good fortune to know her personally.

Roderick Robinson said...

Anyone who responds to Psalm 121 grabs me by the lapels. Given the sweetness of both her French and English voices, I felt her singing voice was probably equally sweet; that she could have sung it and charmed me yet another way, Especially given her lack of equivocation about music: "Ah the voices, their voices," she said, referring to the Welsh choirs. And her ability to bridge the gap that defeats so many of us: "Books are like musical instruments." Let's all drink to that.

Started learning French at five. Oh virtually monoglot Britain, how you have slipped behind (but then it was a private school). Followed ineluctably by that which was self-evident: "Il fallait écrire.", confirmed in an extended metaphor about the mines representing purgatory and the Welsh hills (did I get this right?) a prelude to Paradise.

I liked "Poetry is a way of slowing down time" not in any way diminished by the adjacency of a blocking system "pour organiser les moutons." The infinitive being peculiarly French. Plus a sentiment you would no doubt go along with: "For me the kitchen was in effect the house."

At French last Friday I was reminded - ever so kindly - that regretter can also mean to miss someone. No doubt, no doubt.

Jean said...

I'm sorry you've lost your friend, Lucy, and so glad that thanks to you I read some of Heather's work while she was alive.

I meant to just have a quick look at the film and have just watched it right through. Wow, what a strong, still, luminous woman.

Five kids in six years and no running water - and the sea water didn't lather well - enough to render anybody formidable.

I'm moved and intrigued by her words about the importance of place and space and light, about the difficult but essential journey of crossing into another language and the power of the written word to cross over and, by implication, to outlive her.

Thank you for all of this. What a lovely memorial. And now I'll go and read her poetry again.

Chloe said...

Sorry to hear of your loss Lucy *hugs*

Lucy said...

Thanks all, so much, for kind words to me and for taking the time to read and listen to Heather.

Martha, Ellena and Chloë - it's a loss I shall never cease to feel, but one I knew, I suppose, was going to happen. I spoke to her on the phone a couple of days ago, she sounded tired but was very much herself, and she was, I believe, right to the end, which was at once quick and gentle, a rare blessing. So it's that rather solemn, grateful, wondering kind of grief. But I'll still miss her so!

Joe - that's a spot-on description; glad I was able to convey something of her. She could sometimes be querulous and exacting, especially when distracted by health and other worries, but there was a delightful element of impishness about her too. Many's the time I wished I could have wrapped her up and sent her to you with the books, you and she would have got on so well. Please watch the film, her French is a pleasure really; when she was first out of hospital and still poorly last year she would only speak French with me for a few weeks, and I always found it quite easy, since she had the second language speaker's careful correctness and freedom from tags and other redundancy and sloppiness.

Robbie - bless you for watching and listening with such care - you can perhaps see why I was able to indulge her a bit of snootiness about electronic reading devices! In fact, Proust notwithstanding, I never could really engage her much on food, except a bit of nostalgia about shepherd's pie and bramble jelly! And yes, regret in the sense you mention, but not in the other; on the whole, I think I can mourn her with a sense that, while not always being able to match up to her in every way, I did right by her, which I think must be the mark of a good friendship. I can't tell you how glad I am I made that 'phone call.

Jean - thanks so much for watching. That always astonished me about bathing the babies in sea water. She'd had so many struggles, before and after that time too, and always seemed to emerge from them, I knew she couldn't really be indestructible but on some level I felt she was. Yet it sounds as if she went out on the gentlest of breaths. I don't know what will happen about the bilingual edition now, it was always work in progress. Her last published new work was about 2010, I think.

marja-leena said...

What a beautiful lady, such a life and such work left for those behind. You were blessed to know her as a friend and would indeed feel a great loss. My condolences.

Strange for me to read and see this after recently losing my 87 yer old aunt, and just home from a lovely 'remembrance' with family and friends sharing stories and memories. Sigh.

the polish chick said...

so sorry for your loss, lucy. friends are miraculous and a great blessing.

zephyr said...

i wish i understood French...
what a beautiful woman
such a lovely voice.
i am so sorry for your loss
and what a lovely thing to have, this treasure of her voice, words and images.

Natalie said...

So sorry Lucy, what a great loss! I wish I had known this wonderful human being. but now I will look up her work which I was, shamefully, unaware of. The video is marvellous, I love her voice and manner of expressing herself - she completely takes on the French persona yet underneath, the Welshness is still there. And in that photo of her as a child one can already see the woman she became.

Lise said...

Je suis bien désolée!
C'est toujours triste de perdre des personnes qu'on apprécie .Cette dame parlait un remarquable français

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

ML - She was beautiful, physically tiny but with enormous presence. A long and fruitful life, and a peaceful quick passing, but still a loss.

PC - they are indeed, and I'm afraid I don't possess them in enormous numbers, compared to many people with a better gift for friendship. Heather had a lot of friends, enjoyed people, but still succeeded in making me feel that I mattered specially, even though I sometimes exasperated her! On the other hand I could quote AA Milne and Walter de la Mare which conferred special points...

Zephyr - thank you for looking at the film - even not knowing French it conveys something of her.

Natalie - so glad you liked the video, the overlays of language and culture in her personality were fascinating and unique, I think. And of course her English was to some extent preserved from an earlier time, though sometimes she'd surprise me (and herself) with coming up with a more modern word or phrase, which she wasn't always sure of, which could be funny...

Lise - ah merci! Ça me plait que vous avez regardé un peu le film. C'était bien une dame remarquable, qui habitait notre belle Bretagne, pendant plus que soixante ans, et qui a enlevé ses sept enfants tout à fait francais, et qui avait une connaissance énorme de la culture et des écrivains francais, mais toujours sans perdre ses racines anglophone non plus. Elle me manquera.

Dick said...

I envy you your friendship with Heather Dohollau, Lucy. What a remarkable woman. Thank you for the film.

marly youmans said...

And now I shall go read some of her poems . . . I expect that is the proper memorial for those of us who were not lucky enough to know your friend. Sympathy, Lucy.

Zhoen said...

(o)