Too late

June 2007

Christchurch, New Zealand

I took the dogs for their morning walk on the beach, hoping not to meet anyone.

A man in his sixties was digging a mound in the sand. I wondered if he was burying his dog and thought how the corpse would get washed out to sea and then back up on the beach a few days later.

I asked him what he was doing. He was digging a plinth for his daughter’s coffin, the funeral being that afternoon.

I was really shocked. I had already linked the mound with death, but not of a person. He was chatty and alert and unemotional as he told me she had died on Wednesday after falling and blocking her airway. She was 38 and has 2 kids 12 and 15. The 12-year-old had taken it badly.

I don’t know why, but part of me didn’t believe him, as it was so extraordinary and he seemed so calm.

He said he was worried about the next battle which would be trying to keep custody of his grandkids as their father lived in Kaipoi. I said he could call in for tea any time but he did not register my address.

I wondered if he’d been a good dad – he must have been quite good to have his daughter and her kids live with him.

I walked away and was dying to stop and watch him dig. But I waited until he was nearly out of sight. As I turned around, what I saw broke my heart. He was patting and shaping the mound. All his focus on making the best mound, the most perfect platform that there ever was. All that energy diverting itself from making his daughter’s life perfect (did he try hard enough, could he have done more, of course he could) into making her death perfect.

I’ve thought of him every day since. Every day I’ve thought what he would be thinking “this time last week she was still alive” “I could have done something” “I should have heard her fall”.

So little, so late. Could his daughter have stayed alive, he’d have built perfect mounds in the sand 12 hours a day for the rest of his life just to have her on earth.

It is always too late isn’t it. When it comes down to it, there will always be things we wish we’d done and said, and not done. And it will always be too late.


Liberty & Humanity

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