This is the"backyard" view from Hamilton's Henderson Hospital. Perched atop the escarpment, it provides patients, visitors, and staff a bit of respite from the sometimes dreariness that is life at a hospital.

This photo was taken in the afternoon on an unforgettable summer day in 2009. Brad and I went to visit Buck who was becoming stir crazy from his overnight stays in the hospital. He was the kind of guy who liked to be outside where the action was, where life was happening. Although still very sick from cancer and receiving heavy doses of chemo, he looked otherwise healthy and still had that zest for life. Enough to keep his sense of humour in tact and wrestle with that constant itch to just do something, anything to keep him sane.

On this particular day, a visit inside his room just wasn't gonna cut it. And I don't blame him. The walls were painted a pasty egg-shell white. His only decorations--a tacky, broken 1980's clock donated to the hospital, a few "get better soon" cards tacked to the wall, and couple of ailing plants that could've used some TLC. Constant reminders that he wasn't well and that he was "one of them." Those that reside on the 3rd floor of the hematology ward, who carry Death on their shoulder, and live with the worried whispers of loved ones around them. So on this day, we went outside for a smoke break.

He couldn't shake the habit. Or he probably could, but I suppose it was the one thing that gave him comfort when there was little comfort to be found. His doctors gave him grief for not giving himself a better fighting chance at health. But he looked like a cornered animal sometimes who's eyes betrayed his emotions, and I felt pity for him. Let the man have a smoke...

It was one of those unpredictable summer days in southern Ontario. In just a matter of minutes, the sky turned dark and the wind started whipping scattered cigarette butts across the floor of the outdoor balcony. Thunderhead clouds started rolling in and I could smell a good storm a brewin'. Buck stood on the picnic bench with his cigarette in hand and situated his ball cap firmly to his head. With the rain surely about to start pouring, this meant his visit outdoors would be cut short. I could tell he wanted to stretch his freedom to its limits. While other patients and hospital staff started shuffling indoors, we hung on until the drops snuffed out the butt of his cigarette light.
In that moment, smelling the storm and reveling in its wild activity, I felt alive. And I know he did too, seizing that summer shower moment for all that he could with his only brother and myself.

At that point in his disease, we were all optimistic that such a healthy guy, on top of the world, looking out at the city of Hamilton, would conquer such a curable form of cancer. But about six months after that afternoon, progressive Hodgkin's lymphoma held out longer than he could, and prematurely snuffed out his other flickering light.

As patterns of life resume to a new normal, I find it tough when my driving path forces me near the hospital. Just yesterday, an unexpected cry came out when I saw the backside of the hospital looming over the escarpment. As I continued on to my destination, I batted away tears and attempted to stifle the sobs that erupted from my core being. A friend told me that perhaps it means I still haven't let go of him and of his humanity. Perhaps I haven't, but in the three months since he's passed, the memories of him are still vivid. In my mind, it's still last summer. I'm standing on the balcony with Buck, trying to steer clear from his puffs of smoke, while at the same time wanting to be close enough to feel his presence, and close enough where he can feel mine. Saying "I love you" without actually saying it, giving my support without suffocating such a free spirit.

And while one piece of my heart believes he is now truly free, the other piece, still very broken, longs for just one more smoke on the mountain.