I re-read this today. When I was writing it eight and a half years ago, in the surreal days following Juliette’s death, I used to shut myself in my bedroom, looking for calm and quiet which would let me find words that might capture the essence of my beautiful little girl.
I was a mess. My mother was anxious. She wanted someone else to deliver the eulogy. “You can’t cope, darling,” she said. “Other people won’t cope with you standing there. It’s too much.” Her words were heavy on me as I wrote, but I was determined to do it. Steph couldn’t – told me he wouldn’t be able to – so who else? I wasn’t going to have some member of the church who barely knew Juliette, talk about her. She was MY daughter. I was her mother. I felt her first kicks in my stomach, held her when she was born, cherubic and perfect. It was me who wrote wonder poetry about her in my head as I breastfed her during dark spring nights and told her I loved her, as she died, five years later.
My mother’s warnings made me try and be funny. I remember standing in front of her coffin, aware that I was shaking from head to foot. The sheets of paper with notes written in purple ink, shook with me. I couldn’t read them. How on earth did I think I could get people to laugh? They did, though.
Juliette was an intense little girl, who twinkled with laughter so much of the time. There was nothing she couldn’t make a joke from. Anyway, this is what I said:
I’ve been praying very hard for the courage to stand up here today. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but in all my 34 years public speaking is the only thing I’ve won a prize for. And now I’ve raised your expectations, I’d better say that I think I was only seven at the time and I don’t think the competition was all that fierce.
I’m standing here because I wanted to show a tiny scrap of the bravery that our little Juliette has shown over the last nineteen months. She humbled me on a daily basis with her lack of complaints. She became almost unflinching before needles. She took foul tasting medicines every day without a word – mostly – some days she would scream and fight as you know, but I feel that that was her own personal theatre.
I was truly in awe though of how she accepted her situation. I remember one day last year after a bath, she was sitting bald and naked on the kitchen table with her Hickman Line hanging out of her little chest. She was holding a handful of chemotherapy pills and she said, “Look Mummy! Magic Trick!” She put the pills in her mouth, had a gulp of water and then with utter glee showed me her empty mouth.
I couldn’t help it – I started to cry, which of course she was bemused by – but this moment somehow crystallized for me her beauty, her bravery and her sheer determination to have fun in what we more laden adults would perceive to be a grim situation.
But I don’t think children have our fears and I’m so grateful for that. Last week crabbing in Southwold, she decided she wanted to hold a crab – only neither Steph or I were brave enough to help her. So she picked it up herself. That was Juliette.
I’m going to miss her so much. I’m going to miss her soft head and her lovely little solid body. I’m going to miss the way her eyelashes curled up to her eyebrows, her heart shaped mouth, and the way she would quietly cuddle into me.
And she was the only one of our children with a decent bottom, which I am proud to say came from her maternal side.
She was so curious, demanding to know where babies came from when she was only 4 – refusing to be fobbed off with my vague answers – using them to build her next question, sometimes weeks later.
She made us all laugh. She was a wonderful mimic with comic timing an adult would envy. I remember her deliberately but charmingly sabotaging Elodie’s carefully thought out dance moves – all the time barely suppressing her wonderful infectious giggle.
I mourn the adult Juliette I’ll never know. I know that sometime in the future when we stop feeling so robbed, we shall be so grateful that we lost her as we knew her – laughing, playing with her beloved Elodie, Pierre and Raphi – cheeky, gorgeous, with an occasionally seriously foul temper which I fear was something else that she got from me. But she made up for it with bountiful levels of charm.
She was so loved, and someone has said that that radiated from her. She seems to have touched so many people and I don’t think it was just because of her illness.
Steph and I believe that she has had the best medical care over the past year and a half. The golden souls of the many doctors and nurses that have cared for Juliette, and those that desperately tried to save her life last Thursday, we’ll remember you forever.
I believe that she was just too special for us to keep for longer than the five blissful years that we had her. I don’t believe in a cruel God. I don’t believe in a pointless world. Some day I’ll understand. I feel so blessed to have been her Mummy for five years and Steph is the proudest Papa ever. The mortal in us aches with losing her, but we will see her again. In the meantime we are going to have to ask you to help us find the strength to spend the rest of our lives on earth without her.
We love you darling.