When not to mention the death of a child…By Emma Pearson
February 27, 2024
Image of Oświęcim by Vlada on Unsplash
24 October 2022
I went to see an extraordinary film last night – “Simone, Le Voyage Du Siècle” (in English, it’s been translated as, “Simone, A Woman of the Century”.
The Simone in question is Simone Veil, French (and European) politician, women’s (and human) rights activist, and Holocaust survivor. A woman who was so very much ahead of her time, and whose message(s) are all the more vital today. I would love Boris J, Donald T, Vladimir P, Alexander L, Viktor O, Marine LP, Jair B, Giorgia M, and a few million others, to watch it, really see it, truly feel into it, and learn. Politics – and general disillusionment with the state of the world – aside, do see it if you can, whether you live in a Francophone part of the world or not. Whether you speak and understand French or not.
I knew of Simone Veil during her lifetime (she died aged not quite 90 years old, on 30 June 2017, two and a half months after Mike died, and 36 years older than he was; and two years to the day before Julia took her life). But as is so often the case when you come to watch a good Biopic, I didn’t really know her at all. I knew of her role as first President of the European Parliament. And I vaguely knew of her role in more recent French politics, under Sarkozy and others. But I didn’t know much else.
Since getting home late last night, I have googled Simone Veil myriad times. I’ve been on Amazon to see what I might read. She was prolific! And I have been on Wikipedia and multiple other sites, reading, my jaw dropping further every time.
I didn’t know of her influence in transforming laws for prisoners in both French and in (then-occupied) French Algerian jails.
I didn’t know of her bringing into French law women’s right to electively end a pregnancy.
I didn’t know of her impassioned speeches during the Balkan wars, effectively saying, “Are we going to turn away again? Barely 50 years after the Second World War?”
And I didn’t know she was a Holocaust survivor.
I didn’t know she lost so much of her family during WWII.
I didn’t know that one of her surviving sisters died in a car crash after visiting her, post-war.
I didn’t know her mother had been a brilliant chemist, and that she was the inspiration behind Simone’s phenomenal career.
And I didn’t know that she had lost a child. Her second of three children, Claude-Nicolas. He died in 2002, aged 54, of a sudden and massive heart-attack.
Why no mention of this in the film?
The film did not take us to the end of Simone’s life. We also did not witness the death of her husband, Antoine, who died four years before she did, in 2013. But the film did take us beyond 2002, the death of the middle son.
So again, why no mention of losing a child?
I was crying through so much of the film.
At the loss of her mother.
At the loss of her sister.
At the loss of her father.
At the loss of her brother.
At Simone’s compassion when visiting AIDS patients.
At her determination when getting the world to see rights of prisoners as human rights also.
At her fierce power when defending women’s right to have an abortion – in a Catholic country, no less.
I cried during so much of the film.
But I didn’t know that she had also lost a child.
That for whatever reasons known best to the film director, that part had to go unmentioned.
Because it was just too much?
Because it was too much for Simone?
Because it would be too much for audiences?
I just don’t know.
She said, on his death, “J’ai commencé ma vie dans l’horreur, je la termine dans le désespoir.” (“I began my life in horror, I end it in despair.”)
I too also do not mention Julia’s death. Quite often. It is too much for people. I just talk about Mike. And Ed. Sometimes Don. But by then, people are crumpled in front of me, and it feels unreasonable to ask them to take another tsunami lashing.
Every time this happens, I shrink inside. I feel bitter bile rising in me.
It’s abhorrently wrong not to give her place on the mantlepiece of losses. But so often people cannot take it. And so I have little experience talking about it.
I think that that is the way with multiple, cumulative losses. It’s too much for the world to bear, as much as too much for an individual human to bear.
Not comparing my losses with Simone Veil’s – but truly – I don’t know how she did it.
How on earth did she get up every day?
Yes – it was for her mother. She says so in the film.
To live life, to carry on carrying on, to breathe because others cannot…
And to talk about what others cannot, will not.
But just to the point where they might collapse.
And then shut up.
Because it’s too much.
Too much to hold.
Too much to witness.
Simone – I bow deeply to you.
I bow deeply to all of your family – alive and dead.
And Julia – this one’s just for you. My sweet baby girl.
Come back and be a Simone.
And in the meantime, I shall carry on breathing for you. Because you cannot.