Anne Lamott wrote something about us all, underneath it all, being like trees in the winter. Once everything is stripped away – all the voluminous foliage and lovely flowers, even the fruit – all that is left is something we all have in common. And this is the naked, quivering frame of a winter tree.
Before I went to visit you, someone told me that I should think of some joke or entertaining anecdote, that I could relate to you with so much enthusiasm that it would transport you beyond the four chipped walls of your hospital room. My gut filled with dread at the obligation of being ‘entertaining’, and the expectation that I would fail at this. But I thought of a funny little story anyway, and I told it to you with great energy and vigour. Your eyes were wide and you moved your lips slowly, trying to understand what it was I was attempting to communicate to you.
I used to be terrified of that moment – of seeing my once-familiar grandparent withered in a chair, confused and disorientated, unrecognisable.
At that point I decided to give up, and to hold your hand instead. I said, “Remember when we used to play table tennis together?” And you turned your face to the side, as it crumpled under the weight of something dense and profound. “I used to love that,” you said. We both began to cry then.
You lay back, stripped bare of all the wit and charm that I had, until then, mistaken as your essence. I propped my entertaining anecdote outside the room. I saw, with relief, that your winter tree was enough.
You gripped my hand with your strong, ancient fingers. And I realised, for the first time in my life, that my winter tree was enough, too.