April 15th four years ago, my father turned 70. A few days later on April 22nd he died. We were lucky, we tried to tell ourselves, he was given eight months and he actually got eighteen. My parents were in Greece on holiday when he felt the lump in his side. It turned out to be a deadly, metastasised carcinoma. For a doctor to know that there is no way to heal himself, no way to save his life, this knowledge is a terrible burden.
Isn’t it funny that the most vivid memory I have of that day is that out in the garden his camellias were in full, pink, glorious bloom.
That day I took care of mom, I called the funeral home and I helped lift his body onto the stretcher. I lifted him for the last time. Why is it that a body feels so heavy once the spirit is gone? Is it because we lift the dead with heavy hearts?
I wonder what I would do if I found out I possibly didn’t have the time I was hoping for. I wonder if I’d even want to know. Probably not. I don’t think I would ever know to such a degree as my father knew. That way I would be able to hang on to precious hope; something he couldn’t manage in his last year.
It often occurs to me now that we are left here, in the land of the living, with such a fragile hold on existence. We hoard it, we rip it away from one-another, we promise ourselves to live fully until we no longer live. We forget to love what we have and, when what we have dies, we always realise we loved it more than we knew we did. And we live on with the sharp memories of the dead lodged in our throats.
Over time, those memories dull and eventually the sadness fades and all that is left are the camellias blooming each spring, pink and bright, celebrating a moment four years ago in the garden. A moment of birthday cake and chicken wings and champagne and family and sunshine.
I saw my son on the 22nd of April. We hugged and talked about the generalities of our lives. It was all lovely and convivial. And, as I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help but wonder if there will come a time when he will help lift my empty body with his heavy heart.