Edits

Society

Learning from memory— Global

Preface

This will end OK but I am sorry it has a bit of a gloomy start. It begins with a lunch with someone with whom I have been close for years and it concludes with a tree.

30 July 2012

This will end OK but I am sorry it has a bit of a gloomy start. It begins with a lunch with someone with whom I have been close for years and it concludes with a tree.

Last week I nipped out for a catch-up with a woman I’ve known for years. Recently she’s been adrift, stopped working, been under the duvet when she shouldn’t be. The cause: the death of her dad. As we picked over our food she said that the bit she couldn’t get over was the fact that this was forever. Eternity – it turns out – can feel like a very long time.

A few days earlier a house guest had told me a very different story. A cousin of hers had heard that his mum was desperately sick but had decided not to delay his holiday to Thailand. By the time the plane had landed she was dead but instead of hot-footing it back to London he had instructed the undertaker to delay the funeral for two weeks while he and his wife went island-hopping. This had triggered a family rift that looked like it would never heal. But as I don’t know him, I can’t guess at what he was thinking. Perhaps he just couldn’t cope.

And I am not sure there is really any correct way to behave after you lose a parent. Apparently he’d suggested this is what his mum would have wanted. Somehow I doubt it but who knows. How long should you be miserable? How should you find a way ahead?

As Claire, my lunch date, and me chatted however I was struck that, despite her fear that her dad had vanished, he seemed so alive. Her taste, her appreciation of the world, her amazing attitude, her darting intellect and her belief that life should be good and interesting were obviously all echoes of the man she was sitting there describing. Her inability just to move on, to disappear to a Thai beach, was because his death had made her look at his values and achievements and wonder what she should be doing with her life. He was guiding her even now. Even in her despair, I could see that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

That night, glass of wine in hand, I sat on my little London roof terrace and marvelled at how the silver birch was soaring so high this year. Despite being in a pot it must have climbed to four metres or more by now. And that’s when it hit me too. My passion for gardens and plants flows directly from my dad. He gave me a patch of the garden to look after when I was five years old where I tended everything from runner beans to sunflowers. And here in the summer breeze were his skills and hopes rustling in the leaves.

Mourning is fine. But that’s not the end of anyone. From your passions to pot plants people have an odd habit of sticking around.

Monocle 24

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