Yesterday I turned down my street and was greeted by a perfect pink camellia lying upright in the middle of the road. It looked almost as if someone had carefully placed it there, floating in a circle of green leaves on the black road glossy with the recent rain.
“Hi Dad.” I whispered aloud to myself in the car. “What are you doing here?”
See, I take random camellias as a sign. My dad loved them and in turn I grew up in a home surrounded by forests full of them. They adorned my father’s coffin in 1999 and I carried a bunch of them as my wedding bouquet in 2004.
Camellias are special to our family. Despite my non-religious sensibilities, I do occasionally see them as a little message from what I don’t know for sure does or does not exist.
I had not experienced a sign for a long time until yesterday. It was 11:30am in Melbourne. What I certainly could not know was that on the other side of the world my nephew Ian was spending his last two hours or so on this earth.
As word of my nephew’s sudden death finally reached me at midnight, I could only react with shock and sadness. I lay awake for a while fixated on the worry that he was alone at the time of his accident. I had forgotten about the camellia until this morning and I can only hope that my dad dropped it on his way to meet Ian. That Ian was not alone in the end in a way that is not for us to understand yet.
I know these next images are from a childhood long ago lived up, but we adults are simply people grown around the children we were.
You always called me aunt Rachel like it was a very special title that deserved respect, not just because I was born the sister of your dad. Even when you towered over me as a grown man, you still called me aunt Rachel. I never once doubted that you loved your aunt Rachel and kid, aunt Rachel loved you.
You were really one of a kind and while I am pretty sure you did not find life easy, with every struggle you always had a smile. An absolutely glorious smile. That smile got you out of a lot of trouble. Probably more often that I would want to know. Eternally cheeky, you were a challenge to babysit… Truly one of those spirited children they write books about how to raise. But you were you. Even when people wanted you to be someone else, even when you were trying to figure out who you were meant to be… you were you. I was pretty sure that you grew that characteristic into a strength perfected over your short twenty four years. Shit, it is almost your birthday. You did not even make a quarter of a century. That is so unfair.
I see a little bit of you in my own son…the final grandchild. I was excited for my kids to have so many cousins to look up to even if they were far away. I will make sure my kids never forget you. They fell in love with “cousin Ian” last year in the brief amount of time they had with you. We all did. No matter how long that time was, it was too short and we all loved you. You gave so much. You lived like you knew.
This is such a strange way to say goodbye, but it is all I have. I never thought about how I would write this, it just came pouring out. These are certainly not the most lovely and ordered words that I have written, but I expected you to outlive me, not to leave us all behind. There is no time for rewrites; I already regret the things I did not say. We will miss you forever. Our family set is broken. The grandchildren eleven is now just ten. Even someday when time mends this gaping hole in our hearts, it will be sore and scarred. The phantom pain stinging sadly of something big and important that is gone.
I hope there is another side to this life and that you were not alone. And I hope that if there is another side, when it comes my time to cross through, you will be there with that gorgeous smile. I really want to believe that I will see it again.