I hope my loyal readers will forgive the overly personal nature of this blog article, but I have recently lost a very close friend and relative, and feel a strong need to pour out my soul a little. For the sake of his memory and legacy, he will go unnamed.
When I was young, he used to visit us in Germany regularly, and became a connection to the British life I had never experienced. As well as being able to tell me of life back on the island, he would regale me with tales of the far off countries he had visited and lived in. Luckily, my parents had a similar wanderlust, and soon his stories joined my own experiences all over the world. Somehow, I felt like traipsing off into the unknown, striking out by oneself was connected to him, thanks to his early story-telling.
As I got older, the visits stayed frequent. We clashed when I became a rebellious teenager, and I started to see the other side to his visits: as strong-willed as he was, so too were most members of my family. Clashes were inevitable, and they started to paint a more adult picture of this traveller. I saw how he bounced from country to country, from friend to friend, and never stayed anywhere for too long. The wanderer, suddenly, became a much sadder figure.
When I finally came to live in England, he was clearly taking the steps towards an entirely different journey. While I only found out about his throat cancer, as we all did, close to the end, the more vibrant storyteller of my youth was, at that point, already very frail. Now I became the traveller, visiting him frequently, and learning more of the man and less of the travels. A relentless hoarder, he would show me his collections of trophies, photographs and mementos, relics of a life lived to the fullest.
I was confided in, and I drank it all in: his exceptionally successful career in a truly niche field, his struggles with being a homosexual, his race-car driving career, his life in South America… A truly spectacular collection of memories. I remember one particular time, when he, nearly too frail to walk, insisted on walking me to the station, and even braved stairs to see me to the platform; a fighter to the last.
I last saw him in his nursing home, when I took my fiancee to meet him. For an hour, he told her his stories, then, as we left, we shook hands for a final time. I think we both knew that it was, and tried to say something, but neither of us really said anything more than goodbye. I wish I’d told him so many things, or at least kept the moment silent, but it doesn’t matter now.
I didn’t realise how much his death would affect me. In all honesty, his actual passing was a shock, but it’s these last couple of weeks that have truly shaken me. I miss him, and yet don’t know what I miss. Our communications were infrequent and rarely eventful. I liken it to a stone being dropped into a pond: the bigger the stone, the greater the ripples. And despite all of his cantankerousness, his busy-bodying and his stubbornness, the ripples will take a long time to fully subside.
And I’m glad for it.