Saturday 30 October 2021


The chapel hasn’t changed much since its last refurbishment. Since my first visit to give thanks in 2009, for surviving the worst and longest of my hospital admissions. 

Usually a quiet spot, quiet enough to hear the hopeful weight of a thousand prayers, today there were two gentlemen on their mobile phones, one in heated exchange with his caller. Three Muslims observed their afternoon namaaz and one man walked straight up to the altar, and communed with his rosary. Is a Buddhist noticeable in prayer? If a Buddhist were to perform prostrations, they would appear no different to a Muslim. A Christian counting rosary beads appears no different to a Hindu with his mala. 

There were no women in the chapel today. Normally that would give me pause, but I wanted to sit somewhere and think about my friend Dr Hong Phuoc Ho. We were always in dialogue from the moment we met in late 2005... we were forced into a sort of silence by the ferocity of his last years with Parkinson’s. And even with the profound physical challenges it brought to his muscle control, Dr Ho still sang a few lyrics when Dad commanded him to this summer, and during our last call, he tried to tell me he had dreamed of me ... but the details I will never know. 

When the news came on Wednesday night, a heavy stone landed on my heart. Grief can be instantly physical. I cried and cried. The next morning I dreamed of rocks falling, threatening to crush the person below. To crush me. Dr Ho had suffered in the prison of his body, and in the prison of his memories of the Vietnam war; in the dream I was afraid of the damage those rocks could inflict, but there was no pain. And I woke up. 

What I do have to hold are all the memories of sixteen years - and the hopeful joy of a friend appearing suddenly in the middle of your life, to challenge and to enhance, to delight and engage the deepest and truest parts of our lives. 

Being in Addenbrooke’s the day after his passing in that very hospital allowed me not only time in the chapel, but also communion with the art on the corridor walls - this is one of the coolest images and will now remind me of Dr Ho - fierce and playful, suffering and equal to the task. 

For some reason, the art up at Addenbrooke's no longer has the name of the artists attached to the art. Perhaps this is a Covid change. I shall update when and if the artists' names are included again. The central piece of the young Vietnamese boy is a silk painting titled 'Fight Till The End' by Cố Tấn Long Châu. Báo Ảnh Việt Nam, 1967.


Sherry Blue Sky said...

I am so sorry you lost your dear friend, Shaista. I remember posts when you had had such sweet visits with him in the hospital. So many years of a special friendship - with a friend like that, even speech is no longer possible (as in my grandma's later years), two souls can find much joy and comfort in simply sitting together, in sweet companionship that needs no words. What a gift such a relationship is. I am certain you brought radiance and brightness into his life, as you do into mine and so many others. I love what you have written in this pst, too, about the various beliefs people bring into the chapel, and it embraces them all. Lovely.

Vaccinius said...

You know, aI am insane. Ai have been for 25 years, in Norway, though aI think aI have been also the few times aI have been abroad. Ai have run and escaped, you see. Though, can aI be a patient on internet? Ai assume not, and therefore aI afford my heart felt condolances with the loss of your friend. Friends do not easily come. May you quickly find a new.

Click to leave a comment