Had I not known
that I was dead
I would have mourned
my loss of life.

Death poem of Ota Dokan (1432-1486)

June First saw another death, although I didn’t know until the Second.

My dad’s uncle. A fall at home, followed by a fall asleep in his chair. Only a few years older than my dad, so more like a brother. He had lamented to me at the burial that the order was wrong; that he should have gone first.

My planned trip to the UK for that month inevitably got cancelled. My suitcase remains sitting in a corner of the bedroom, packed for a trip that is still a way off in the future. It’s being joined by an increasing number of boxes ready for a big move.

I pick up Irvin Yalom’s Staring at the Sun with its ominous subtitle Overcoming the Terror of Death. He talks of ripples, a concept I can understand well as during the first year all it felt like I was doing was lobbing huge rocks into the depths of a massive lake. The thing with ripples though – they move forever outward, leaving all around you still. Occasionally you may feel a slight back-lap, but that’s inevitably just from someone else lobbing a rock.

Otherwise, I feel a space.

People, events, and objects move in and out of it, but the space stays.

I become intrigued by a work that the artist Jackie Morris is working on.  At the time I come to it, the name is The Space Between.

 Over the year though, I see her begin to fill this space with feathers, stones, bark, gold leaf, otters, labyrinths, and typewriters.

I fill my space with books – reading them, talking about them, listening to other people speaking on them. I realise I did the same in the second year after the Tohoku earthquake. It’s not so much retreating into books, rather expanding out with them. Being able to access literary festivals online is a godsend.

The genres and topics I veer towards range from grief to death to magic realism to spirituality, along with a whole lot of bizarre.

Beowulf makes a special Xmas appearance.

Out in the real world, I manage two outings beyond the immediate vicinity of our house. One in the summer to a hotel restaurant overlooking the bay and one in winter to a bayside restaurant with a view of the city. Otherwise, I circle round and round the same 2-mile area – supermarket, post office, convenience store, all interspersed by Kōshin-tō stones depicting the three wise monkeys under the feet of Shōmen Kongo, who protects against all types of evil, including disease.

The principle is that the gods can’t be angry if they never hear, see, or tell your bad deeds. Just remember to stay awake for a whole night once every sixty days and you’ll be alright.

What of the third one?

In August, I get word that my dad’s second bicycle has finally been sold. The quirky bike. While the first one, a red and black Cannondale, had soon found a new home and gone on a grand tour of Europe (well, Spain at least), this second one was something of a Frankenstein’s monster. Bits and bobs added here and there to a Specialized frame. Customized* in Eski style, meaning the concept was completely lost on everyone else. All that could be said was it had character.


* Even the plastic drink bottle had been customized. It felt like there was left-over drink in it, but when I had gone to hesitantly empty it, a bunch of assorted bike tools wrapped up in a rag fell out. Ergonomic; waste nowt; spend nowt.

With that, the loose ends around my dad’s estate are sorted.

I pack away all the documents, letters, birthday cards, a mud-stained phone, and caving notes into an old school satchel and place it in the closet.

A memory box.

In the new year, I join a second book club and throw myself into The Memory Police (written by Yoko Ogawa and translated by Stephen Snyder). It makes me question what I remember and what I’ve forgotten. The levels of pain and numbness that comes from realizing things have gone, are going, will go.

A memory comes.

It’s 1997. We’re on Enoshima, a small island off the coast near Kamakura.

An outside table at a restaurant. Freshly fried tempura and ice-cold beer. Sea eagles swooping overhead on the breeze. Buddhist drums and chants from the nearby temple. Everything bright and blue.

He’s smiling.

‘Now I feel like I’ve arrived in Japan,’ he states.

I step back in my head. How did we get there? Where else had we been? How long did he stay? Where have my memories gone of my dad’s first trip to Japan and why is only this one left, blazed in place like the hot sunshine of that day? I could sit a while and try to recall more, but it would be a haze, just imaginings. Not real. Unreal.

A samurai and his camera  (The Yokomizo Residence, Yokohama, October 2008)

Yalom releases a new book A Matter of Death and Life, co-written with his wife the writer and historian Marilyn Yalom after they learn of her terminal diagnosis.

He too is in the second cycle. I watch his Zoom talk. He mentions that the first marking points have all passed. Now the second birthday, second Xmas, and second New Year all pass, and we arrive here at the second anniversary.

I go to check on the internet about second cycles. It helpfully dumps tens of thousands of results on me stating that the second year of grief is worse than the first.

I’m glad I learnt that at the end and not the beginning…

I take my usual route to the local supermarket.

As I cross the road, a bicycle cuts across my path.

A black Cannondale.

Another cycle has passed.

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