|She loved orchids and during one of her former husbands ambassadorial assignments she raised them in her own greenhouse. When she tried to bring some of her favorites back into the United States they were confiscated at the airport.|
Three weeks ago a dear friend of mine died — quietly, in her bed, alone, except for one of the three rotating caregivers who was always in her huge, gorgeous, beautifully decorated, sad apartment in one of the best East side buildings in New York City.
She was, by both the English and the French definitions of the word, an exceptionally special woman. A bonafide WASP, former ambassador’s wife, socialite, hostess extraordinaire, philanthropist, a member of one of America’s foremost families by marriage, lover of animals, style icon, intellectual and excessively generous friend.
As a wedding present for Andrea and Will she threw open the cabinets in her pantry and said to me, “Let’s see what we can find in here.” She pulled out a 12 piece set (including coffee and demitasse cups and every imaginable serving piece) of magnificent French china. Then she added a silver ice bucket and a collection of linen napkins.
She spoke perfect French, passable Spanish and I was told she was quite fluid in German. We often spoke French during that sacred moment of the day she announced regally as ” it’s cocktail hour!” the way my parents once did. Every evening she prepared three hors d’oeuvres to accompany our wine (or sometimes vodka). Her little preparations were presented on one of her many stunning platters and embroidered linen cocktail napkins were always part of the ritual.
More than two decades older than I, she came from, and refused to relinquish the rituals of a rarefied existence that she felt helped make the world a civilized place, at least within the confines of her apartment.
When I worked or visited New York I stayed with her. For a few years I lived with her for several months. The last time I saw her was in March. She was bedridden and drifted in-and-out of the past and present. Sometimes she thought her beloved wire-haired fox terrier was with her, at other times she called out to the husband who had left her decades before.
For old times’ sake, I went out and bought delicious delicacies so we could recreate cocktail hour. It was great fun and sad at the same time. That, in fact, was the strange atmospheric melange of her life — fun by moments with a black cloud ever hovering above.
She never recovered from a scandalous and excruciatingly painful public divorce from the love of her life followed by her brutal exclusion from the social whirl that they enjoyed together. Her heart was broken and in many ways she became bitter and reclusive. Occasionally the old sparkle would shine through, but clearly she was living an empty life and she did not have the ability and maybe not the desire to move on. Instead she clung to the past and found strength there with a small handful of friends who made the effort to see her, call her or what she loved most, write to her.
Reading this, one might be inclined to think “well too bad for her, she had no material worries, she should have/could have picked herself up, dusted herself off and all the rest. . .” Maybe, but profound sadness, I think, is so intimate, so inexplicably personal that each of us must deal with it in our own way, not in the way that others who can never truly understand would like us to behave.
Her best friend, a woman my age, who became a good friend of mine over the years and was like a daughter to her, is, as one says, “taking care of all the details with her lawyers.” But there will be no funeral service, no obituary, no marking of her passing.
I simply felt that, without revealing specific details of her extremely private life, which she would have hated, I would mark her passing here and say that knowing her changed my life and I will be always grateful that a curious series of circumstances brought us together.