Yesterday, I said something about it being a good time in our lives for melancholy music.
A little under a week ago, my wife’s Grampa was admitted to hospital because of a stroke. Since then, we’ve been doing dog-sitting, various family members have been up to see him, some even from out-of-town.
Yesterday, it was hinted that we might be getting The Call soon: he wasn’t expected to recover.
Today, we got The Call.
I met the man for the first time, ten years and a few days ago. That was on my first trip to America, and it’s kind of crazy that anything involving me and Stateside goes back quite that far, but Tempus Fugit, donchaknow.
I grew up pretty close to all my grandparents. I know my life overlapped with two of my great-grandparents, one of whom I have fragments of memories about.
My Great Nan – I remember she sat in her chair. I remember “fuzzy kisses” (my words). I remember one time having an urge to go and see her (I suspect that didn’t happen often, may have been the only time). We didn’t go then. She died soon after (I think probably days, I don’t think it was into a plural of weeks). I remember a bit of the funeral, not the service, but outside. I think the casket must have been lowered into the ground. “That was my Great Nan”, I said, I think to the clergyman. Not teary, I think matter-of-fact but hearing my voice across the years, I wonder if I strayed too close to the border of cheerful.
When I was in my teens, my Grandad got Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer. Between that and the chemotherapy, he got weaker, and after a while, he was stuck in bed. The chemo didn’t make him better. I remember one time someone (maybe my Dad?) asked him how he felt. “Like death”, was the reply. What do you say to that?
There comes a point where everyone becomes aware that things aren’t going to get better. I remember I cried a lot one night, after that point came. Not long afterwards, maybe even the next day, my Dad and I were at his bed. Dad and Grandad were both crying together. I don’t think I’d ever seen that before. I felt bad about not joining in, it was like I’d used up my tears, and in the back of my mind I didn’t want them to think that I didn’t care, when I very much did.
That was the first close relative that I lost.
Since moving to America, my two grandmothers have died. Both had been declining over the years.
Granny had always been a great cook. I remember at one point noticing that now my mother was the better cook. Between when Oldest was born and when we moved away, she seemed less engaged. Happy to see us and the kids, but… you want your wife and kids to remember the person you knew, rather than the old lady in the chair, you know?
Mum said that in the last week, it seemed like Granny was like a flower that had been picked: the spirit, the connection to life had gone, but the body took a bit longer to catch up.
My poor Nan had a steeper decline earlier, but then hung around for longer. Strokes took it out of her, she was stuck in bed in a nursing home for a long time. I think my kids only knew the old woman in the bed, who had trouble speaking. Oldest was there when Nan thought I was my Dad, and that my Dad was my Grandad. I didn’t really know what to say.
With my Grampa-in-law, I know there’s many things he’s turned his hand to, and been successful at. And I’ve visited every week for a while, learning to weave. And I’ve seen the decline here, too: having trouble finding the word to finish a question, having trouble finding the word to start a sentence. In the winter, declaring my hands are cold when I get there, and that they’re so warm when I’m ready to leave, to not finding the words to express temperature (he recognised when we guessed the right words). To sitting there for most of the day, not saying much. A small appetite most of the time, not even wanting to join us at the table once.
I didn’t go visit in the hospital, as others did. Seemed more my place to enable others to go: watch dog, kids. Not get in the way of their time. I’ve had time being with him while he was still at the house, and I’m more peripheral family.
Death is a part of our existence. And yet death is tragic. Our people can’t stay forever, yet we keenly feel their absence when they go. And so much that was known to them, that they learned and got good at, that they experienced in their too-brief passing through history, that will forever be beyond our reach.
I don’t know what I would ask, but I think that now I’d love to know all about the person behind those fuzzy kisses, the old lady in the chair, my Great Nan who lived through so much.
I’m glad my older two kids got to meet FIVE of their great-grandparents. Not so many people can say that. Youngest has met two, he’s even with me, there.
Lord, have mercy on all those we love who have moved on. Forgive us for all the knowledge, skill and wisdom we failed to learn, retain, keep alive, when those that possessed it slipped out of our reach. Comfort those of us left behind.