I remember today five years ago pretty well. I sat in a dark hospital room somewhere in Germany, watching the first red lining in the sky herald the break of dawn outside of the window. It had been a long night with bursts of sudden sleep interrupting my attempts to stay awake at all cost. The chair I sat on must have been immensely uncomfortable, but the pain flooding my body had nothing to do with it.
My father’s second wife sat on the other side of his bed, holding his other hand, restlessly asleep in her uncomfortable chair, at times muttering things I neither could nor attempted to understand.
Until this day, I am convinced that my dad waited for the sun to come up. The night had seen him getting quieter, calmer, no longer indicating his thirst for sips of water with his eyes to me anymore. At some point that night he had stopped using his voice. Each of his hands was in one of our hands, and his head tilted towards the window. It would be a sunny day.
My father died at 6.28 a.m., and the only reason I know that of course, is that the hospital staff came in, turned off the machines connected to his chest, and announced the time of death. Surely they do this for some perfectly justifiable bureaucratic reason, but had they known the pain my father went through the months before, they may not have had the audacity to claim that his death was confined to that single moment in time. 6.28 a.m.
Marc, the French Jazz musician, with whom I shared an apartment in Copenhagen, used to say that the most obvious truth people fail to acknowledge is that death is part of life. Every minute of our lives we die. Our bodies decay, our time runs up. And yet we waste our lives as if we lived forever.
This seems to be a suitable interpretation of life and death for a French Jazz musician. It’s that plea to spend your life discovering whatever makes you happy, and then to devote yourself to it, which Marc so uncompromisingly exemplifies with his own life.
But I will claim this – just as we may die our whole lives, we can live on long beyond them. In other people’s memories and dreams. My dad certainly lives on in mine.
Today it’s five years.