Earlier this evening Genia, dear friend of Oliver, Roberto, Katia, Manny and me, died. She experienced a brutal 3 week battle with secondary liver cancer, diagnosed too late and treated ineffectively before succumbing.
Genia: star historian, PhD student, dancer, photographer, hiker, skier, knitter. Genia: who had much shit to put up with in life and dealt with it full on. Genia: classic Russian looks, disposition, straightforward directness.
Genia: in hospital undertaking the chemo treatment which ultimately killed her by failing in its duty, her tumour getting bigger not smaller, when she wrote this:
“The photo I didn’t take or This Is Love”.
As some of you might know, I’m hanging out in the hospital for the Valentine’s Day. I’m spared from chocolates and flowers ads, as well as photos of 20 year olds kissing and holding hands on every corner. But it’s not a story about me.
It’s about a photo I wish I took today. My neighbour is a woman who’s been fighting breast cancer for eleven years. Gaunt, with dry and wrinkled skin, hair cropped to her skull, her eyes are tired, her look is dull. Eleven years ago she was a mother of two, now she’s a grandmother of four. She proudly shows me some photos of them. Then he comes. Medium height, medium built, bold, fit, with a smile in his eyes. I politely leave the room. When I’m back I see a perfect frame around them – that is the photo I must take!
I tell them spontaneously that their presence is for me what Valentine’s Day really should be about. A couple that sticks together against a chronic and deadly illness. Not children or grandchildren, not other people or 45 years together defines them as a couple. It is simply love.
She’s sitting in the bed, he is slightly lower, on the chair. They hold each other’s right hands and some invisible energy is flowing from one body to another. There is a smile now in her eyes, they are no longer dull, but warm and tender. Just like his.
I wish I had taken this photo.
Genia: died without being a couple. Indeed her choices in that department caused her much grief. But I think she knew, as she called upon her friends to help her through what turned out to be the last three weeks of her life, that love was also this, her friends at her beck and call. She knew there was nothing we wouldn’t do to help and she was completely appreciative.
Genia: who generally hated my knitting, laughed at my technique, but wanted this hat. The photo (like the other) is taken about one and a half weeks before she died.
How could I say no? And the other day when she sent me the pictures, this exchange by email:
Genia: Remind me why you gave to me? I definitely didn’t ask you first ( you can’t do it to a fellow knitter, bad manners!).
Me: Ha, yes, well, you broke protocol there. You looked at it and said you wanted it! Or you tried it on and said you wanted it. You’d just got your C permit (or something like that) and were bubbling over. So I said yes, you could!
Genia: I’m blushing ! And once again – you are an incredible friend !
And now I want the hat back again, not because it was mine, but because it was Genia’s.
Genia: a part of my life in Geneva since the week I arrived here. We will never forget you, dear friend.