Yesterday at your funeral, more than 400 of the people you touched—perhaps literally, you were a retired hair stylist—gently and quietly entered the cemetery in the tiny village of Bourgougnague.
There, in my awkward French, I heard that you usually make people laugh.
I wanted to cry but, shy and hiding in the crowd, I feared I’d look ridiculous at the eulogy of a person I’d never met.
We didn’t know each other, M. Rouchon, but we ever so briefly passed lives. I was newly-arrived in the village of Lauzun and had completed my first solo bicycle ride in the country of France—12 kilometres from Miramont to Lauzun!
As I bravely pedalled the last, steep stretch into the centre of town, I passed the doorway of Coupe & Coiff, your old salon. You were standing there, a spaniel at your feet, grinning and waving and calling out, “Bonjour! Allez, allez!”
Who is this man? I asked myself. And why is he being so friendly?!
That evening over shared dinner, neighbours George and Ros told me that you lived above the salon with your wife Evelyne and that you could always be seen standing at the doorway and smiling to passersby. George said you like to call out “Allez!” to passing cyclists as if we were riding the Tour de France.
That was last week. It’s been a week of many deaths in France, but yours touches me most personally.
I didn’t greet you yesterday at your grave site, M. Rouchon, but I wanted to.
So today, with a blistering side wind from the north and a shocked, shining sun in the south, I cycled 4.3 kilometres to visit you. I imagine the cars flying by must have wondered why a woman in a red jacket with a black beret and a green bicycle was braving the D1 roadway on such a windy day.
I arrived at the Bourgougnague cemetery gate, walked the bicycle to a tree near your site, and rested it there. Huge bouquets of beautiful, colourful flowers covered where you lay and the memorial plaques told me that you are a beloved family member and friend. I learned that you play cards, and perhaps you like to go hunting?
I laid a sweater down on the grass, sat, and my eyes rested on the flowers, the farmers’ fields beyond, the steeple of the Bourgougnague chapel, and my bicycle. P.H.’s bicycle.
That’s when I began to weep.
Like you, Pierre-Henri Cade loved the Tour de France. He loved cycling and he loved the countryside. But he left France to come to Canada. When I met him he had three bicycles, and this avocado-green cyclocross he called “Guacamole” was his newest baby, one he’d lovingly assembled himself.
He rode this bicycle from Canada to Mexico and I rode with him part of the way because I was in love with him. He promised me that one day, we’d come to France together and he would show me his favourite country roads.
But today, P.H.’s bicycle is here, and I am here, and you are here, and he is here, in his own cemetery, somewhere near Lyon. I hope it’s as beautiful as this one.
M. Rouchon, before I arrived in France, I busily prepared P.H.’s bike so I could bring it to France. A painter called Harald Strasser helped me inscribe the frame, and the mechanics at Ride-On Cycles carefully packed it for the plane. My friend Ian unpacked and reassembled the bike, and I rode it from Miramont to Lauzun.
And all through that time, I didn’t shed a tear.
But when I saw your casket yesterday, I suddenly remembered that the last casket I’d seen was P.H.’s. My eyes prickled with tears at the realization of it, but I held them back, because I was afraid.
Today, I didn’t have to be afraid. No one was around except the sun and the wind and so I sobbed. I cried for P.H., for his loved ones, for you, your loved ones. And for myself, I admit.
Eyes still moist, I rolled the bike back to the gate, and rolled south. I pedalled contemplatively and felt the sun on my face. I watched the wind blow the billowing clouds, and a hawk circle a field, plowed. And then I wept again, because it was so beautiful, and people like you and P.H. should not miss such a beautiful, blue-sky day.
Roland Rouchon, today you made me cry. And I thank you for that.
To read more about me, P.H. and our journey through life and death, visit You Are Free – Your Suicide, my story, in 20 parts.
Feature image photo source: L’Artisan Aquitain – EDITION GIRONDE Automne 2014
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