Extract from The Last Road Trip
Below is the letter that was read at Paul John Edward’s funeral, inspiring four friends to take their last road trip.
My name is Paul James Edwards, like most of us here, I was fortunate to live a life in which I managed to accumulate a certain amount of wealth. Enough at least to allow me the privilege of living in a place like this. There is no question that in almost every respect, Stone Well Estate is an Eden for people who have worked hard and now wish to live out the remainder of their lives in peace and comfort.
If not downright luxury. For those of you who don’t know, I came out here many years ago following the death of my wife. The truth is that her death hit me harder than seemed possible. So hard in fact that I was convinced that I would follow after her in no time at all. The way I saw it, there was no way I could carry on without her. Writing those words now, I realise how feeble that makes me sound. Like an old and sentimental fool. But it’s still the truth and I figure it’s too late in the day to start lying now. And so I waited to die. But the days still blurred into weeks. And the weeks soon came and went like autumn leaves being swept away in the wind.
One Christmas became another. And then another, for eighteen long years I waited. When I finally fell ill a few months ago and discovered the nature of my diagnosis, I felt only one thing; relief. My long wait was finally over. You see, I stopped living the day I came here, I made this place my prison.
Of course, I know what some of you are thinking. How can a retirement estate as beautiful as this one ever be considered a jail? But others among you will know what I mean. Trust me when I tell you that prisons can be made out of just about anything. Even a designer golf course, as it turns out.
It was only once I started to get really sick that I began to see things differently. I started to notice things that hadn’t occurred to me before. When I was young, retirement estates – or retirement homes, as they were more commonly called – were reserved for the authentically elderly. For the frail and lonely.
Folk who, for the most part, had become surplus to either their family or society’s requirements and could no longer care for themselves. But looking around at the people of Stone Well, a very different picture became clear to me. So much so that I began to question what I was seeing. I even decided to do a little research. Do you know that the average age of folk in our estate is sixty-three? The waiting list – and I know because I’ve seen it – has people listed in their late forties.
A few weeks ago, my condition forced me into the frail care unit for the evening. The nurse told me I was her tenth patient. I was a little confused by her statement, so I asked her to clarify. Was I her tenth patient of the day? The week? No. it turns out she had been working in the unit for four months already and I was only the tenth patient she had seen.
So what, I’m sure you’re wondering, is my point? Well, firstly, I’d like you to know how sorry I am for never really participating here. For not taking the time to get to know more of you. It’s no excuse, but you see, I was always waiting to leave. One does not bother making friends at a train station. Of course, now that it is too late to do anything about it, I realise how wrong I was and what a waste I made of my time here.
I like to believe that I am a better person than the one you barely knew. That the quiet man you saw sitting in his garden day after day was just a poor facsimile of someone who once had a great deal more to offer the world. But I guess you’ll have to take me at my word on that.
So why have I written this letter? Well, now that I have finally lifted my head, I can see that some of you aren’t so different. Maybe you think you are hiding it so well, but I see you, after all, I know the signs so well enough.
You’re waiting just like I’ve been. Maybe not for the reasons I was, but some of you have stopped living. There’s no question about it. And I’m asking you not to make the same mistake that I did. Sixty-three – hell, eighty-three – is too young for you to be waiting for the clock to stop if you still have health on your side. I can’t tell you how much I regret these past years. It burns me so badly now that I can barely sleep anymore.
Of course, maybe you are genuinely happy here. Maybe you enjoy your daily routines and have made close friends. Perhaps you have peace in your life. In that case, I am pleased for you and wish you well, but if you are anything like me and you’ve come here for the wrong reasons, then I urge you to do something about it. If you are living with regrets – with things that you have put away in a box but that maybe keep you awake at night – I want to tell you that you still have time enough to make things right. I was given eighteen years – it’s a damn lifetime – and I spent most of these days staring up at the sky. I can only imagine how it must have broken my wife’s heart to see me out on the porch, just waiting.
Thank you, Jack, for agreeing to do this for me. I was pleased to learn about your upcoming trip, I sense you have some unfinished business of your own. I hope and pray that you find the peace you are searching for, if that’s what your journey’s about. I also really enjoyed our brief time together and, of course, I’m sorry we never spoke more or shared a drink occasionally. I have a feeling that I missed out on a friendship that could’ve really meant something. Just one more thing to add to my list of regrets.
I know life isn’t a storybook. I also know that some of our mistakes are too far gone to be hauled back in. That maybe you lost things that will remain beyond your grasp. But I also know that my life would’ve been so much better spent if I had just been trying for something. And that, really, is the point of this letter. My final wish for all of you is that you realise, while you still have time, that it’s the trying that matters. Maybe It’s all that matters.
Here’s to life. And here’s to you. Thank you for listening.
The Last Road Trip by Gareth Crocker
Reviewed by Jane Layzell Scully
Following the poignant death of a man they barely knew, four friends decide to make the most of what’s left of their lives. Abandoning the humdrum routine of life at their retirement estate, they embark on a thousand-mile road trip that will take them from the furthest corner of the Kruger Park to the blazing stars of Sutherland for the biggest adventure of their lives and one last hurrah together.
This book brings to life the characters who display so much compassion and empathy for each other’s struggles on this trip. They find joy in the small things they experience, knowledge about the places they visit across Soth Africa, and a deep and unexpected connection to each other.
This is a worthwhile read and made me think about what have I missed in my life and what can I change before it’s too late. I highly recommend this book.
Copies of The Last Roadtrip are hard to get hold of at the moment, but we are chatting to Gareth Crocker, who is trying to get hold of some copies. If you would like to get a copy, you can email Lyndsay@charteredwealth.co.za. Alternatively, you can download a copy from Amazon. There is also a copy available in our client library.