The phone buzzed away – my dad ringing, it was out of character for him to call at this time, he would know I was just home from work having dinner.
It had to be bad.
Grandad’s health had declined overnight and was now he was in a vegetative sleeping state – he might have hours… he might have weeks left to live.
I went back to my dinner, food was not the only thing I was chewing on.
My mind raced – did I want my last memory of him to in such a condition or would I rather remain ignorant, choosing to remember him from his glory days and living with the fact I passed up the opportunity to say goodbye?
Making such a choice terrified me, but my wife encouraged me to see him.
At this time I could have done with her moral support to visit, but with a young daughter due for bed, this was a journey I would have to take by myself.
Honestly? It felt right to be facing this alone.
On the way there, attempts to focus on driving where futile, as the truth is I was running through all those perfect words of what I was going to say to him.
A whole lifetime to talk to him and it was only now I realised how much more I wanted to say.
Upon arrival at the nursing home, I felt a tinge of embarrassment having to ask directions to my grandads room. All my visits he was always sat out in the public area, but I couldn’t help feeling like the deadbeat relative who never came to visit.
The carer led me to the outside of his door. Wondering what I was to face, I took a deep breath and walked in.
His face was shrunken, skin a shallow grey and mouth locked wide open – a haunting look that made me think of the painting The Scream.
The room had an eerie silence, except for the rhythmic snore thundering through the room from his bed.
Spotting a chair in the corner, I began to pull it over towards my grandfather when the door opened.
“Would you like a cup of tea love?” said one of the nursing home staff.
I politely declined, this wasn’t a social visit where I was listening to anecdotes of my grandfather’s childhood, the state of the country or how there isn’t enough discipline given to young people nowadays.
Those conversations I would never hear again.
I continued to adjust the chair towards him, a futile task in the end as during my time I never actually sat down.
Looking over him I stood propped over the chair while I composed my thoughts.
All the things scripted in my head in the car had gone and I was lost for words.
The silence continue as I tried to compose the perfect introduction, but managed a gasped
“Well then… I don’t know what to say really…”
What do you say to someone who has been part of your whole life? Grandad not being part of it, although inevitable had not been a scenario I was prepared to face.
Then I did something I never did, blurting out everything small thing I could thank him for that came to mind.
I told him how much I loved him and expressed gratitude to have such an inspiring grandad – strong minded, athletic, determined.
As the emotion pour out I felt sad when I realised I never actually told him how great he was when he was lucid.
Why does it take someone dying to really open up how you feel?
There was much more I could talk to him about,, but these words just didn’t come to mind.
Instead I looked out the window, on a dark and starry night – lights from the houses could be seen in the distance.
The world never looked so beautiful, and I never felt so blessed to be alive. I shared this thought with grandad and thanked him for giving me the opportunity to experience life.
My time with grandad was coming to an end, I dawdled a bit, looking around the room seeing the family photos, the cricket DVDs, the sporting biographies and all the very things that made him grandad…
I didn’t want to leave as this was it…
But I had to.
I place the unused chair back in the corner and touched my grandad on the shoulder – stone cold.
Despite the hollow face `not being the one I wanted to remember, I said I love you, kissed him on the forehead, turned around and walked out making sure not to look back.
This was it.
I wanted to be strong, walking out with my head held high, but the carer caught me out, sympathetic as part of their job asking,
“are you okay?”
It was the hardest thing I have ever had to face, but glad I went through with it.
On the drive back I laughed as it suddenly dawned on me while I was pouring my heart out I never even said
“Hi Grandad, its James.”
A man with three sons and several grandsons – if he could hear did he even know which one was talking? The humour you find when dealing with a dark situation.
My dad tried to call as I boarded the train. The decision to ignore him was deliberate, there was no way I was having this conversation on a train.
The train ride was long, and I checked my phone impatiently – my wife had texted to say my dad had called the house and that I should to ring him back as soon as possible.
Once off, I huddle in a quiet spot under the train shelter and called dad back, to be told grandad had passed in the early hours of the morning.
It dawned on me – with how early he died and how late I visited I was probably the last relative to see him alive.
I cried again,
I cried the most I had ever done over all my grandparents.
Perhaps it was because he was my only grandfather role model (my mother’s father dying before I was born).
Perhaps because he was the last of that generation remaining.
Perhaps seeing him in his final hours made it the most ‘real’.
Perhaps it brought home how fast time goes and sooner this day will come to us all.
Who knows what it was, but I felt something.
For now life goes on.
I keep my grandad’s deathbed in my mind to keep making the most of life, keep creating moments, creating happiness and most of all telling the people in my life, how much I love and appreciate them.
Thank you, Grandad, for giving me the opportunity to live and making the impression on me to influence the person I have become. I love you.
In memory of Reginald Lane.