He was a well- respected man. Revered. Anyone who talked to him was in awe of him. He spoke with a quietly. He was very articulate and had an air of dignity about him; the kind of air that made you want to know more about him. His manners were as fine as cognac, as instinctive as breathing.
I met this man on a warm spring afternoon five years ago. It was an interview. He wanted to know a little bit about me. He had a very direct look, a look that made you want to tell him everything hoping that somehow, he would be able to resolve your issues or ailments — after all, he was a doctor. He must have liked my personality since he hired me. I was to start my job the following day. Over the course of the years, I learnt so much from him. An appreciation for golf was one of the few things that stood out to me. In the past the Golf channel was one of those stations that I quickly flipped past when trying to find something to watch. I now know what five under par means, a fairway and putting. I even know how to tee off. The first time he taught me about golf he reminded me that I would have a quiz the next day. After noticing the quizzical expression on my face, he chuckled and said he would always be a teacher. He had been the Dean at one of the U.S.’s most prestigious medical colleges.
On a random weekend a few of my friends had invited me to the golf course for a few swings and part take in the camaraderie. My swings were horrible and despite hitting the ball off the fairway numerous times, I couldn’t wait to tell him all about it. He had met my excitement with his usual quiet demeanor expressing how glad he was I had put the theory he had taught me into practical use. The football season was our all time favorite season. We frequently checked the newspaper to see the listing of the games. I even went ahead to find out what was going on within the Ravens team even though it was not my number one team. He loved the Baltimore Ravens, huge fan. I on the other hand was a die hard Giants fan but a good sport nevertheless.
He was such an avid reader. His apartment was lined with shelves upon shelves of books, and as the years went by and his eyesight became poor, he sought out books on tape. He was always learning. The one thing I will always remember about him was how dapper he made sure he was before he walked out the door. Even if he was to go out for brunch or a simple appointment, a jacket was mandatory.
He passed away three weeks ago.
It did not come as a surprise, he had been ill for quite sometime and a couple of months before his death I had sat with him and asked him if there was anything he regretted not doing. He smiled and stared at his bookcase, but I could tell his mind was going back in time.
“Japan,” he uttered.
“I would have liked to be able to speak Japanese, but I spent my time playing golf when I was stationed there for a year.”
“Well at least your golf improved.”
“That it did Anne.”
We both laughed. I smiled and looked at him while he gazed absently.
“I would have liked to read more books but now I listen to my books on tape.”
Here was a man who had his apartment walls covered in books. I was somehow blown away.
“Who is your favorite author?”
“Mark Twain,” he said right of the bat.
We sat in silence for a few minutes then I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to add on. He had an unreadable expression on his face then he softly said:
“Travel Anne. Go to Japan, oh, and Austria. You will love it. See the world. I can’t at the moment because of my disease.”
He was talking about Parkinson’s disease — a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It affects the motor system and makes any form of body movement extremely hard.
As I took all this in, I glanced at his book case, and somewhere there was a section of photo albums bearing titles like Egypt, Peru, Japan and Italy. Here was a man that had travelled to many countries of the world but he still wanted to see more. Travel does that to you, it opens you up to the vast world we live in.
“Save,” he said breaking me out of my reverie.
“I hope you are saving Anne. Save up your money. Invest in something you believe in.”
By now we’d crossed over to where he was giving me advice and as I leaned in to hear his words of wisdom he asked be about my future plans and goals. He mentioned how important it was was to be able to see beyond today. He had lived a good life but he too knew that his time was almost up. A few weeks after this conversation, his body started failing him. He always joked that if bodies were like cars, he would have traded his a long time ago.
I have been thinking of writing this piece for three weeks now. It’s a recent loss and with it being so recent, it slowly unfurls all the other losses I have gone through. The chapters of the dear ones I’d lost but not forgotten seemed to open up. I knew those memories would hang over me as I sat down to jot this piece. I wrote words in my head, had a steady flow of how I wanted them to roll on each other but when I sat down and put my fingers on the keyboard, those words were frozen in my brain. My blank document page stared mockingly at me. I let the words marinate in my head for those three weeks. The reason the words couldn’t roll out precisely as I wanted is because I am writing about loss. Not the loss of a favorite lipstick or a favorite pair of shoes that I recently lost during my move from Baltimore to New York, but the loss of someone dear, someone special, someone who has impacted my life in more ways than I could ever have imagined.
It was a process unlike all the other posts I’ve written. My words were mixed with memories of my recent loss, the loss of my dad three years ago, loss of a dear friend’s mum, the loss of my friend who’s life was just starting. He was so young! Death! It’s not a topic we like talking or writing about, but sometimes things need to be said. I found strength in those memories. I chuckled at some, cried at others, listened to music that would remind me of them all while putting this piece together.
I have lost people this year, I have seen people I love go through grief because they too lost someone they loved. When my father passed away three years ago, it shook all of my being. It changed everything. The pain was unbearable. I felt the heartache straight through my bones. It left me numb. Luther Vandross’s “Dance with my Father” will forever bring tears to my eyes. That’s the worst part about growing up. The realization that you will lose people and that you too will die. People you love and cherish will come and go. You will be heartbroken and feel a pain deep down your soul that will gnarl and torment you every single day. It will hurt like hell; the absence of that someone who was once there.
Someone once said grieving is like broken ribs, on the outside you look fine but with every breath, it hurts. Here’s the thing with grief, you cannot control it. It is like the ocean, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All you can do is to try and stay afloat, tread or swim. No matter what people say about time healing all wounds, some sorrows never fade. They will always be there like a tattoo inked on your heart. The reality is that grieving is forever. It’s not something you get over, it’s something you go through. And as writer Elizabeth Ross puts it, you don’t get over the loss of a loved one, you learn to live with it. You will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole but never the same. How could you?