In 2008 my grandfather passed away in a hospital bed before I could get to him. Despite my best efforts to get there before he crossed the great divide, I could not get there fast enough.
That day as I was packing in a hurry, I heard the house telephone ring. Immediately, my heart now pulls me in two directions; I convince myself that it is our family calling to update us on his condition. With every ring being more sonorous than the last, I fell out of this world and into another. An overwhelming sense of dread consumes me for a moment before I fall into nothingness. I can't feel the weight of my own limbs, I cannot hear and I'm staring into space. My throat feels dry and I feel like I am going to throw up any moment now. Though I don't feel sick and I never am. My body feels all sensations of sickness and pain that never come. The feeling of dread is so strong you cannot think of anything and cannot see anything. There I stand in my kitchen, a hollow shell of a person, incapable of thinking or feeling.
I hear my mum in a muted voice. My body folds into itself and there is no controlling of anything. There’s a pool of tears collecting. The pools at the bottom of my eyes spill and roll. We get the taxi and barely speak. I hold my mother’s hands and look out.
After Henry's passing, I slept in my childhood home for a week before I traveled back. Whilst there, I made the decision to document every single trace and memory that I had of him through the objects he once touched, built and admired.
Taken during a conversation in my grandfather's room - it was the view that he woke up to every morning. Before his 71st birthday, my mother, aunt and I were invited to his room to look at the x-rays of his lungs, where his cancer had put down its roots. Being in a family of doctors, they had examined the photographs with a cold objectivity. I did not dare to look at him or the x-rays. I could feel his fear.
In my 15 years, I had never stepped foot into my grandfather's bedroom. I was frightened to invade his and his wives personal space. I thought it may be rude, or that I may be told off. Still, my curiosity for those 15 years lingered. Whilst my mother and aunt examined the x-rays, I took my chances to explore the room that had been just across from mine and my brother's.
To touch the walls, to feel the fabrics that I had always wanted to. To walk around the room and imagine what it was like to be him. I’d imagine him choosing his clothes. What did he feel like in the mornings?
We didn't spend a lot of time together after my 6th birthday, but the time that we did share was the most memorable of my childhood. Though even those memories have now begun to elude me. As we grew apart, I became exceptionally shy during our weekends of walking in the woods and me watching him prepare culinary delights in the kitchen. My shyness made it impossible to tell him that I loved him very much.
A month later after his birthday celebrations, Henry passed away in the hospital. In his last week, he hadn't enough strength in his body to shut his eyes. He had no choice but to sleep with his eyes open. I felt dread, I felt anger.
The house I once spent most of my time in now felt cold and uninviting. I saw traces of him everywhere I looked. Like the last apples he picked or a page of a cookbook he had marked for when he next made supper. I'd see those things and I would think that he'd walk into the kitchen again. I would wait for him every day because it felt like he would come back.
Now the table we once dined at was gone and replaced with a small round table, draped with delicate lace. Instead of eight chairs, there were only two at the table. Instead of fresh flowers, there sat a woven basket of dry flowers decorated with wheat grain ears. I could not understand or make sense of why that was. If he was to come into the room, there wouldn’t be much space for us at the table with it being so small.
He was a keen gardener, and outside of foraging for mushrooms and berries in the woods, the two of us would spend a lot of time in his garden. On some mornings, he would serve fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and a loaf of freshly baked bread. My favourite was bread rolls that had very small cubes of pork and pork fat. I still think about them.
I sat at the kitchen table looking out into the forest, nursing a small mad hope that he would soon rest his hand on my shoulder. I'd shut my eyes tightly and would attempt to recall what the weight of his hand felt like on my shoulder and in my attempt to remedy my sadness, I would hurt more. I'd start asking myself questions like 'what was the weight of his hand?' and then, 'why didn't I ever pay attention to the weight of his hand?'. Small details that now seemed to be the most important.
And every evening as I looked out into the forest and saw nothing but black, I was harshly awakened by the sobering thought that he was no longer there.
After the funeral I never came back to the house.
I only came back to the cemetery to lay fresh flowers on his grave.
I was never able to recall the weight of his hand.
In fact, it is now difficult to recall of the times we both spent together.
All I know is that I love him.