I didn’t want to write the Christmas letter this year. But I don’t want to skip a year, either, just because it’s been a tough one. So here goes.
As most of you know, Jay died from pancreatic cancer at the end of March. We hadn’t even expected him to make it through to Christmas last year, so having him around, making lists of gifts, delegating jobs (logs, wrapping, turkey, Christmas letter…) made it a truly special one for us all. He held his own through January and February, when we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a barbershop quartet, who came round to sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart to the two of us. Jay, (with my help, of course) bought me a lovely blue topaz ring as a Valentine’s gift. I rather think I gave him a cup of beef broth and some ice cream, but I can’t swear to it.
By March he was beginning to feel the strain, and though he made some extraordinary rallies – he ordered Cheerios and bacon for breakfast the day before he died – I think at last he felt that his journey was done. The outpouring of love and affection that followed was an enormous help to me and the family. There were messages from people who’d worked for him 20 years ago, as well as many others. We had a party (no other word for it) at the New Hampshire house shortly after he died, and 50 people battled through snow and slush to come. In early May came the celebration which Jay had organized. He specified it should be at the Yale Club in New York, with an open bar, and he chose some friends to speak about him. Everyone came up trumps, and it was a truly joyous occasion. Jay would have loved it.
I had to sell the Lake house. I would have liked to keep it, in a way, but the house felt wrong without Jay in it, so I let it go, after planting a tree in his old vegetable garden, where I know it will flourish, due to all the years of bullshit (sorry – fertilizer and cow manure) lavished on it by Jay.
I moved back to Connecticut, to the little house in Fairfield, which puts me close to my daughter Helenka and two granddaughters, (a mile and a half away) and another daughter, Heather, who’s in Newtown with her two daughters (about half an hour away). My son Adam lives in the cottage in the garden, so I have company if I want it. The rest of the children (and two grandchildren) are in the Boston hinterlands, so within a couple of hours drive (if I drive the way Jay used to) or three hours if I behave myself.
For those of you who’ve followed the progress of Jay’s lions over the years (check my previous posts here and here and here). They were transported down to Connecticut by two rather unlikely movers (one tall and one short) who managed to wrestle them into the back garden of my new home, where they now reside, terrifying the local wildlife. I am now fully protected against squirrels and woodchucks…
There were losses this year, but there were gains, too. I heard from my first boss, Dawn, who was spending a few months with her daughter in Rio de Janeiro, where they had an apartment. Would I like to come? I had prepared the lake house for sale, and didn’t hesitate. “Love to,” I said, and headed off to the airport, clutching my US passport. “Where’s your visa?” asked the nice young man with the English accent as I checked into my business class flight. I looked blank. “If you’re traveling on an American passport you need a visa,” he said. “It takes five business days to get and costs $185 if you do it yourself,” he went on, looking at my crestfallen expression. “Have you got a British passport handy?’ he said. “The Brits don’t need a visa.” It was the first time in years I’d traveled without my UK passport – traveling light since I was only going for 3 nights.
I toddled back with it the next day (no business class space left…) and spent a lovely weekend being looked after and driven round the sights of Rio, eating out (Brazilian barbecue a bit of a challenge for a vegetarian!) and catching up with old friends. It was my first foray out on my own and I had a good time.
While I was there, though, I got an offer for the house (a Good Thing), almost immediately followed by a gigantic storm that threw all the garden furniture into the lake, made inroads into the roof tiles and brought down a tree in the garden (a Bad Thing). I could only hope that the buyers wouldn’t be checking the house out again until I’d had time to get rid of the evidence. It all worked out in the end, and all the family came up for Labor Day weekend to help pack up the last things in the house. They camped in the house. I decamped into a nearby Bed & Breakfast, knowing that sleeping on the floor was likely to make me very cranky indeed. It was a lovely weekend, and a fitting way to say goodbye to Jay’s dream house.
August found me in England. No question of staying where Jay and I used to stay – the memories, not to mention the price, would be painful. So I stayed in a small hotel in West London, where I grew up, and then spent a few days not far from Southampton, with great friends (Freddie and Bertie’s dad, uncle and aunt) whose house backed onto the New Forest. It rained every day, so I have a new English raincoat, but there were enough gaps in the drizzle to allow for country walks pub lunches and walks by the shore.
I popped over for another week right after Thanksgiving. I thought I might need a bit of a boost, and London – decorated for Christmas, not too crowded, theatre tickets available (Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh, no less) with sisters, friends and a new great-niece to visit – made for an energizing trip. Came back with the airlines’ standard issue dose of flu but am now back on my feet again.
Jay’s professional association, CASRO, has instituted an annual William J Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award, and I went down to their conference in Miami with Amanda to present it to the first recipient. He happened to be an old Brazilian friend of ours, very active in the international research industry, which ensured it was a cheerful trip.
I’ve been catching up with my writing friends this year, which has been a tremendous help to me. In particular the weekly writing group that starts in my house and ends up at Geronimo’s (local Mexican place) with a Margarita each, seems to have hit the right note. I’m writing a memoir about Jay and me. The story begins with his diagnosis last year, but includes as many of the wonderful things in our years together as I can squeeze in without putting my readers to sleep. I hope to have the first draft finished by the spring.
I want to thank those of you who told me years ago that you liked my Christmas letter and that I should ‘write properly.’ It was your encouragement that got me started, and now, I hope, there’ll be no stopping me.
This Christmas will be different, of course. Bertie (our youngest) has invited us up to Boston where he and big brother Fred will be cooking a Christmas dinner unlike any other. (Turchetta and chocolate mousse anyone? No, I have no idea what turchetta is, either.) But it will be a Good Thing. I’ll be seeing Amanda and Heather and their families in the week after Christmas, which is what we always used to do. And Jay will be with us all, I know.