March 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Near the start of 2003, just after the Canberra Bushfires, my Grandmother on my Father’s side died. She’d been sick for a while. When I’d last seen her at Christmas she’d spent most of the day sitting down, too tired and sore to move around, to play with her Grandchildren, the youngest of whom just didn’t quite get what was going on. I knew -in an abstract manner- that she was sick, but it didn’t really click. So when she died, it was a surprise. I was sad, I was angry. I didn’t like the idea that someone I knew could simply be taken away from me in a moment.
On Sunday, my Dad came downstairs, asked if I was nearly ready to leave with my Mum to go and see some rellies, and said he needed me to come outside and speak with him. I knew before I opened my door what he was going to say. I’ve been expecting the words for years now. Overnight, my Grandfather (on my Father’s side) had died. He’d spent the last few months in a Nursing Home, and years before that with a carer at home, dealing with the fact that he was slowly, inexorably withering away thanks to cancer.
They say that a long life is a blessing, but at 85 years of age, I worry that my Grandfather had had a few years too many. I sit here and struggle to find the words to say that I loved my Grandfather, that I think it’s sad that he’s now dead, but that I’m not sad. That I wished it could have ended with less pain for him, less pain for the family. By the end he thought he knew what trouble he caused, he loved that we came to visit him when his health deteriorated yet again, but he seemed to wish that we didn’t have to. I don’t want to say that he’d given up on life, but he’d given up on “being a burden”. For the last few months he was on a no antibiotic order, a death sentence of sorts, once you’re in a nursing home.
I remember when I was young, I looked up at him, grey hair turning to white, he showed me how saggy the skin on his arm was, and I laughed as only a child can, laughed at how bizarre it seemed. We used to whistle at each other, our own little act, since it was something my sister couldn’t do. A little older, I marvelled at how fit he was, compared to my family and I he seemed like an unstoppable force, going for “light walks” at my running speed, always staying active and alert. Once he started getting sick, he slowed down, but we could still sit around, both reading books, comfortable in each other’s presence, comfortable in the silence, with nothing needing to be said. The last time I saw him there was silence, undercut with the unceasing buzz of the hospital. But it didn’t feel the same. It was the silence of things that wanted to be said, but from people who didn’t know how. By the end I’d managed to force out “Love you, Grandpa.” The words strained, though the intent was not.
I look back and choose to remember the good times, the times when I was young, when he was healthy, or at least less sick. I find it sad that I never truly got to know Grandpa (while I’m also grateful that I knew him as long as I did). I never got to see what he was like as a healthy man, through the eyes of an adult. I find it sad that a good man has died, and I find it sad that he spent so long dying, so long as a version of himself that wasn’t really him.
But I don’t feel sad. I feel relieved that it’s over. I look back, and wish that it had been more like my Grandmother. That one day, much to my surprise, I’d been told that he’d died. That I could cry about it as simply as I did back then. But then my goodbye would be too late. An addendum to his life, not a pained farewell in a hospital room. So I can’t really say what’s for the best. Is it better to linger on, or to be snuffed out in a moment?
I don’t know, but I know I’ll miss my Grandfather.