|May 1992: In Holland Park with Mom and Ari|
It was a beautiful Spring day in Kensington. May is one of the most beautiful months in London, with flowers blooming all over, trees budding and a promise of summer, that most years forgets to pass by.
Two days before, we had been to Holland Park on the afternoon walk we did most days during the two years Vicky was with me in London, barring a spell in hospital. We had with us Ari, the Sri Lankan lady who for eight years helped take care of mom.
We lived on Campden Hill Road, just five minutes away from Kensington and Chelsea’s largest park. It became a habit after lunch and a short siesta to wrap up, whatever the weather, and go visit the park. It was a routine that broke up our long, solitary days and one we looked forward to.
|Holland Park's Kyoto Garden|
Holland Park is the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s largest park with 22.5 hectares of flower gardens, children’s play facilities, sports areas, a cafeteria, and large stretches of woodland buzzing with wildlife. Contained within the park is the beautiful Kyoto Garden, a Japanese garden donated by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991.
The park is one of central London’s most peaceful spots and so it provided us with lots of joy. It had semi-wild woodland, garden areas, a famous Orangery and a restaurant by the same name, a giant chess set, a cricket pitch, tennis courts and one of London’s best equipped children's playgrounds, as well as squirrels and peacocks.
After crossing alleys lined with chestnut trees, we had several stops to make before heading to the pond area where we would site and chat with the regulars.
First was the Kyoto Garden to hear the gong from the natural fountain.
|Is this Hanna?|
Next we would go feed the squirrels. They are very tame and would come up to our hands for their peanuts and make Vicky giggle. They are tagged and we recognized them by these bands. Vicky named one Hanna (John), and would look for him every day.
|A Holland Park peacock|
We’d then go look for the peacocks and wonder if they would grace us with their spectacular fanned tails. We would then check on the formal gardens to see what flowers had bloomed, run our hands on the lavender beds to keep the aroma and then pass to say hello to a lady statue, next to the Orangery. We never knew whom she was, but she was to play an important role…
With an ice cream or a cup of tea in hand, depending on the weather, we then sat by the pond for an hour or so.
|Our corner of transuility|
We were easily recognizable, Vicky in her wheelchair with Ari and myself pushing it in turns. We were part of a small community of regulars who spent a couple of hours in the tranquility of the beautiful Holland Park grounds.
But rewinding the clock 20 years… When got back from Holland Park on the afternoon of May 4, 1992, Vicky wanted to have a little rest. She stretched out on the living room sofa. She seemed more tired than usual, and when Ari and I tried to sit her up a couple of hours later, it was too difficult. She had become very heavy and we had to wait for a friend to pass by and help get her into bed. I could feel the kind of sleep she fell into was much deeper than usual. It was time to call the family.
May 5, was another sunny London Spring day. The sun was out, the birds were singing, cars were passing, the World Snooker Championship continued on TV… but Vicky could not get up, there was no walk to Holland Park, just a bedside vigil, where minutes feel like hours and hours like days.
|A final resting place|
Although mom was terminally sick for eight years -- first surviving an aneurysm, then severe osteoporosis, living with Hepatitis C and a broken hip for good measure -- you are never prepared to say goodbye to a loved one. So it was while sitting next to her on the bed that I thought it would be okay, yet again, and we would be racing back to the park in a couple of days. But it proved wishful thinking…
As the hours passed, she sank into a deeper sleep. And then, the most horrific sound of all – the death rattle – began at night. It is a sound you never want to hear. And in those last hours, a lifetime goes through your mind played in slow motion.
The final breath is so peaceful. You can feel it going through your soul and lifting in the air.
On that May 6 morning, life would never be the same again. “What will I do now?” I wondered then in tears.
The following weeks are a blur. I know we eventually made our way back to Holland Park to scatter Vicky’s ashes.
|The statue of the lady gone, my sister Asma takes her place|
Being so far from home and her beloved Beirut, it seemed appropriate for all the peace and joy the park had brought us. And where better to spread out the ashes than in the flowerbeds, with the birds, squirrels and peacocks, next to the statue of the lady (which sadly was removed a few years later)?
And life goes on…
If any of my London readers happen to be in Holland Park today, say hi to mom and maybe a little prayer.
Vicky: My mother, my child… January 31, 2012
Dearest Mom… March 21, 2011