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Ghost trees

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I visited the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens on Friday. This wonderful tree, a Davidia involucrata – informally known as a handkerchief tree, a dove tree, or a ghost tree, because of its beautiful white “bracts” which flutter in the breeze – is in full bloom, and truly a glorious sight.


Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about it. What a tree! How brilliant that I didn’t know it existed and then there it was; perfect, astonishing, surprising.

It’s nine years today since Matt Kinnison died. I bet he’d have liked this tree. He’d probably have known all about it because he knew a LOT of things. He’d have liked the informal names and the floaty shapes and the fact it’s named after Father Amand David, a French missionary who lived in China and discovered the Giant Panda.

Nine years passing means the sting, the grief, the pain, has gone. Not having Matt in my life is the norm now. Such a bloody shame though.


Matt Kinnison

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Matt died six years ago. Ghastly fucking anniversary. My world remains all the poorer for the lack of his friendship. I am fortunate that I have letters, emails, cards, drawings, online stuff, that bring him back to me. He had such a distinctive style; I only have to read a couple of sentences he wrote to hear him. 

I have an A5 envelope that he marked “For the attention of:      ” with a wee cartoon face that he drew to signify me. It has a few bits and bobs from him inside and I keep it on my writing desk. It’s not a talisman or a lucky thing. I don’t keep it to memorialise him. It’s just there, next to me. I look at the envelope often, the contents rarely. 

Six years on I discover I can’t make peace with his death. We say, “It’s a blessing” when someone is released from the agony they are in, but obviously it’s not a fucking blessing they suffered in the first place. What a shabby platitude “It’s a blessing” is. I think we live trying to convince ourselves that things can be fair and logical. We cushion ourselves against the reality of mortality. We’re all going to die. It’s the 3 AM terror that pitches at me through the darkness. Some of us die sooner than others. Some of us die of old age, in our sleep. Some die sudden, violent deaths. Some get terribly, dreadfully, fatally ill. Fuck all to do with fair.

There are expectations about grief. A hierarchy of grief. A sense that a death belongs to so and so more because they were xyz to the deceased. They have an ownership of that loss. Yet each death ripples out to all the people who knew that person. Each grief is unique and valid. Time heals. And it does. Thank goodness for time. With distance our losses become manageable. I don’t think about Matt every day, instead he floats in and out of my mind in a beautifully natural way, as and when. Remembering him doesn’t hurt. He’s part of my past, part of my history, another person who shaped me. Tonight though, I’m fucking furious that he’s dead.