I used to have a memory, particularly for dates, that would sometimes astound my friends. Now I have to look them up. Tomorrow will mark the fifth anniversary of my father’s death.
His second wife, who he was with three times longer than he was with my mother, lives in Toronto, where they spent their life together. She always has flowers placed upon his grave in Ottawa on special dates and I’m often tasked to make sure they’ve arrived properly and then I’m to take some pictures and send them to her. And today was that day because it will be five years tomorrow since we buried him.
The cemetery is only a few blocks from where I grew up and it looks down upon the school I went to where my mother, brother, and I lived after my parents broke up when I was very young. My brother, who is fewer than five years younger than me, doesn’t have any memory of living with my father. He was always two or five hours away, living in Montreal and Toronto. But he always had a presence in our lives. For summer vacations and holidays and birthdays.
I even made a point to live with him in Toronto when I went to university but my younger brother has no memory of ever living with his father.
I was meant to pick up the flowers at the nearby florist but when I called them to ensure they were ready, I was told they had been already delivered to the cemetery and when I called the cemetery office, they told me they were already grave-side. So my new job was to go there and take pictures for his wife in Toronto.
The walk wasn’t as close as it had been for the last decade or so. My wife and I have separated and I haven’t been to our old house in months. I’ve been living in a hotel in a dodgy part of town but I thought I was still close enough to get to the grave by walking.
I’m very sick. I had a seizure and spent a week in the hospital recently but I felt like I had to complete this task. This mission. Of course, my walk took me past my old home and I was worried about having to encounter neighbours and talk to them. I didn’t, thankfully. But the 2.5 kms I had to walk in my sickly condition felt like it was killing me. And I was walking to a grave site where I’ll eventually be. It felt like a pilgrimage.
Of course it was raining. I had to stop and rest three or four times and I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it, I was so weak. But I pushed on and eventually found my destination.
From the grave site, I could see my school and three or four nearby houses that I knew as a child where my friends had grown up. I sat under a large tree in the rain and looked at the windows on the second floors and recalled where individual’s bedrooms were and what fun we had. I looked down on the tennis and basketball courts on the school yard where I grew up. And I cried because it had never been more obvious to me that the circle of life was a lot smaller than I had ever envisioned.
When I eventually got my breath back, after much longer than I would have imagined, I swept the dead leaves off the grave of my parents, unwrapped the five roses from their plastic wrap, and took my pictures. Because of the rain, the grave marker was unreadable but I wanted my dad’s wife to know at least that the flowers were there and so was I.
Once I’d taken my pictures, I realized there wasn’t much to do there. The cemetery wasn’t pretty on this rainy April day and my only goal was to get home, such as it is. A bed in a bad hotel in a bad part of town. So I exited the cemetery and found a corner in my old neighbourhood from which I intended to call a cab.
I had begun the day thinking that as I’ve gotten older, my perception of five years had changed greatly. It was an eternity in my youth and had become a blink of an eye in my middle age. But as I sat on a large stone just outside a residential property wall while waiting for the cab, I realized quite lucidly that I had been wrong.
Five years ago, I hadn’t envisioned losing my wife, my home, my job and my health. It was still an eternity that only seemed like a blink of an eye. I suppose it’s like the sands of an hour glass. They always fall at the same rate but as our time left is growing short, it only seems like they’ve accelerated the rate of their descent.
I got my cab and returned to my hotel and I laid down. And I listened to the rain against the window. And I thought about my father. And I grappled with the realization that I no longer had a perception of “five years” that I could believe in anymore. And the sand just seems to keep falling faster and faster every day.