Sunday, 18 October 2009


She was a privilege to know.  One of those people who makes things better by their presence.  Fascinated by everyone and everything around her.  Glamorous and beautiful and funny yet still approachable.  She has left us poorer by her going, but immeasurably richer by the time she spent with us.

I want that life.  I want to be 90, adored and adoring and living life at 2000 miles an hour - all there in the mind, and virtually all there in body until the last moment.  If she wasn't an advert for living as hard as possible, then there isn't one.  She had incredible energy.

When I first heard, last weekend, it didn't sink in.  My first thoughts were about thinking that, for Dorie, this wasn't such a bad end.  There is no tragedy here.  It was a life full to bursting from end to end.  This wasn't someone torn away by illness or accident, or a mixed up kid in their 20s - like too many funerals I've been to in the last few years.  This was an opportunity to celebrate somebody who had been all they could be.  It took the really beautiful funeral for me to really register I'd lost.  It's strange like that, that it takes so long to notice something's gone.

I met Dorie at a vulnerable point in my teens, when I needed sound and sane advice and a rock of stability - and there she was.  82, I think, when I met her - to my 17.  65 years between us and I would still count her a close friend, to be trusted with any secrets I had.  She was directing a play I was in - the best play by a considerable distance I have ever been in, thanks in no small part to her and the company she assembled and manoeuvred with consummate ease and glee.  The cast was made up of some of the best actors I've met anywhere, nearly all women.  I was playing a Jewish child shipped out of Germany on the Kindertransport, who grows up in England.  The people around me played my mother, my foster mother and my grown-up self.  Acting an intense and emotional script with a close cast is strange, particularly when you're all women - you begin to blur the lines of character and reality.  I ended up with a lot of older women who were used to thinking themselves into my mothers, and that spread into the real world.  I'm still grateful for the friends I made doing that show.  And in the middle of this was Dorie - in control, mothering all of us.  I remember sitting at her feet and listening in awe to her tell us stories of the reality of the war - because she had been there and was old enough to remember it already an adult.  She lived in London during the Blitz, and worked across Europe during and after - and she had the ability to convey some of that to us.  I loved the link to the past, from someone so definitely caught up in the now.

I saw a lot of her in the two or three years or so I was in St Albans after that show.  We did another show together, a less intense but still great one one.  I had begun to slide into the worst of the depression patches that I had and it was harder, but she was still there and caring about me.  I might have been no relation and young enough to be her grandchild.  I remember her coming to a rehearsal still with a curler in her hair and being mortified when she noticed.  It was very funny, in a way - but it worried me that she might actually become old.  She never did though.  She gave me pieces of advice that I'll never forget.  Or not even advice.  We'd be talking about something and she'd say something starting, 'but of course...' and I'd have a new way of understanding things.

She touched a lot of lives.  The crematorium (she never did believe in God, though I know she envied those who did) was packed - people standing.  That was tribute enough.  There were tears from nearly everyone around me, including me.  Not for Dorie.  How could you cry for her?  She'd hate that.  But for our loss.  For a figure at our centres that just made life better.

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

1 comment:

  1. That made me teary -- just beautifully written, of a beautiful,beautiful life. How lucky you were to have known her! And she you.