I wake up most mornings, thinking I've got the start of a cold. I'm blocked up and my throat burns with an ache. Then I remember.
I met Dad off the air ambulance in Hawke's Bay on a Monday. It was so sunny outside that I squinted through the waiting room window in the hangar to watch the plane taxi in. He was the first passenger to disembark, walking off of his own volition, shaking the hands of the pilot and onboard nurse. Just like him, but he'd lost weight and looked frail. The patch on the back of his head wasn't large, but it was obvious.
Mum and I drove him home quietly. He asked Mum if my sister understood what was happening yet. The burning in my throat intensified, stoked by a fear I wasn't yet willing to name.
He walked in the door and improved by the hour. Coming home was the best moment, he declared. It never felt so good as it did that Monday. His appetite was huge, his strength grew by the day. We talked, we laughed.
Days later, the specialist called with the preliminary biopsy results. Mum and Dad sat us down - K, P and I - and explained that it wasn't good. We'll be lucky to have two years, but we ought to plan on a year, they said.
My throat ignited afresh, the flames raging through the dry tinder of my heart and mind.
They'd known or suspected for days. They'd also suspected that no further surgery would be possible, or worth the risk. I think the fire in my throat knew, too. My heart and head had chosen not to listen.
There is a focus on early July. Dad's first round of treatment should be done, and we hope he'll be feeling well. My daughter or son will be his first grandchild. One thing I've always known is what an excellent grandfather Dad will be. That child will be so loved.
The burn in my throat shreds tissue and exposes the bones when I think about the fact that my child will never know his or her grandfather in the same way I imagined.
We spent a glorious couple of summer weeks there, in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the earth, on the hill in the paradise my parents call home. We watched sunsets on the verandah following meals eaten outdoors. We worked on projects together. We set up a Christmas tree and celebrated on Christmas eve and again on Christmas day. We laughed. We went wine tasting and out for a nice lunch. Occasionally, we cried. I cry in the shower, tears beating and streaming over my body like the water, cathartic. We made plans.
It's real. The burn in my throat tells me so.