In Memory of Paul Gochet 1932-2011

by Claire Ortiz Hill

 

 

Pictures of Paul, his Faire-Part and him with me Guillermo Rosado Haddock and Jacques Sommet s.j. in 1999 and 2000

Paul Gochet died during the night of June 21, the longest day of the year and the first day of Summer.

Paul had been ill for many years. Over the years, he told me that, since he had ignored the early signs of his illness, the doctors were having difficulty treating it effectively. He faced his illness, and what must have been grueling treatments, courageously.

Paul believed in the English tradition of sending Christmas cards before Christmas. So as Christmas 2010 approached, I began to feel worried because I had not received a card from him. On Christmas Day, he sent me an email with the tragic explanation. In his words: "Two months ago, while I was in the hospital for chemotherapy, the toxic liquid spread into my right hand and my right arm. I failed to inform the nurse. My hand and my arm are partially paralyzed. Most of the nervous cells have been burned. I will undergo hand surgery in February but the outcome is uncertain. I took a lot of cortisone. The treatment caused general muscular atrophy. I can hardly walk, even with a cane. This accident might very well put an end to my work in philosophy. Handwriting is impossible and working with the key board very hard."

In March, Paul wrote to me that he was "peacefully dying in a four star hospital in Brussels." Though he never said so or ever complained, the previous months had been terrible.

In emails that he sent to me from the hospice (centre de soins palliatifs), he wrote to me that he was reading with immense interest Howard Callaway's Memories and Portraits. Explorations in American Thought and had really discovered the depth of Emerson's and Dewey's contributions to American philosophy. He told me that he was of course praying with confidence and that, although there was no hope that he would recover, he was fully satisfied with his present life.

A friend of his of thirty-five years spoke at length with Paul during his hospitalization. He has been kind enough to correspond with me about Paul's last months, during which he engaged in very deep reflections on many aspects of life and met with theologians and various other people with whom he considered many fundamental questions.

According to this friend, Paul was too ill to speak with him on June 17th, but the next day, he was in splendid condition. He dictated two last letters to the authorities of his university and the Belgian Academy. Then, rising in his bed, opening his arms, and with a big smile such as his friend had not seen on his face for a long time, he said: "For the first time in my life, I am completely in order." This friend was at his bedside holding his arm or hand during his last evening and night. That night they listened to the same Bach CD two or three times. Paul had a very quiet and peaceful end.

Paul's funeral took place on the morning of June 27th. Although he received the last rites, because of the distinction he made between his private and public lives, he chose not to have a religious funeral. The short ceremony opened with the last several minutes of the 4th part of Gustav Mahler's 9th symphony. This was followed by talks by representatives of the Royal Academy and the University of Liège and then the adagio part three of Mahler's 4th symphony. It closed with Mahler's 'I have come to take leave [of you] and this world' as translated into French by a friend.

For Paul, I have smashed up Shakespeare's sonnet 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day:'

 

But your Summer shall not fade,

Nor death brag you wander in his shade.

So long as friends can breathe, or limbs can move,

So long lives this, and this gives life to you.

 

It was a great honor to be Paul's friend. Signed, Claire Ortiz Hill