On the eve of the funeral of a man I greatly admired and dearly loved, a few words come to mind about life, love and philosophy.
Let me start by saying I’m a great believer in looking at what’s on the inside and not being blinded by the wrapping. Pretty faces fade with time but good souls last a lifetime and beyond.
My pa in law was indeed a good soul.
He was the person we all turned to when something needed fixing. He could turn his hand to anything (except cooking!) and was often to be found tackling one job or another in our homes, particularly in our early days as young couples when we could ill afford tradesmen. He was a tradesman in his own right – a skilled electrical engineer who worked in the coal mines for most of his life. He was really interesting. He maintained planes in the war – that’s how he met his wife, our wonderful Jenny.
He was also a great family man. He loved and was proud of his sons and daughters and adored both them and their children. There is no doubt that every grandchild in the family has spent many a happy hour in grandad’s company getting thrown about with wild abandon, taking walks in the park, playing football in the garden and going swimming or to the shop for a ‘mix up’
He was a stalwart baby sitter and having retired early, spent many years looking after one or another of our extended family and their broods. He thought nothing of changing nappies and dealing with scraped knees, tears and tantrums didn’t phase him, he just always seemed to know what to do and did it. We all had absolute faith in the safety of our children in his tender care. Grandad was fun. He was just what you would want your grandad to be in every way.
When his own pa in law died he took over his allotment and we had many happy years of plentiful fresh veg and visits to the ‘garden’ on balmy summers days. When the famous Gateshead Garden Festival took place it was a scorcher of a summer. Grandad was a steward for the Allotments Association display. It was also the year that my premature boy made his arrival and Grandad and I spent many a happy hour together under the shade of a bandstand, nattering and having a cuppa whilst I breastfed a baby that needed to catch up with life and ‘dad’, as I always called him, batted not an eye – it was simply the natural and expected order of things for him.
He had his quirks like the rest of us. He could sing all the words to “Donald where’s your trousers ?” and a born and bred Scotsman, he had a collection of fine malt whiskys that would be the envy of many a connoisseur. If you put water in it he gave you a cheaper blend to ruin, but if, like me, you liked your malt neat, he liked nothing more than a Christmas morning treat of pouring a dram for you to enjoy the rich, peaty, golden goodness.
He came from a biggish family and it became evident as the years passed that’s whilst generally long living and robust, his side of the gene pool had several people who suffered pitifully with Alzheimer’s and in particular his own father. It was one of his biggest fears and as he approached his eighties we were all hoping he had escaped.
When Grandma, his beloved sweetheart Jenny, was alive we didn’t notice some of his functional deficiencies beginning to develop. She was an expert in being his eyes, ears and memory and despite her physical ill health she was sharp as a pin and watched over him. Her loss was devastating to us all. She was quite simply adored and for Grandad, her loss marked the transition from capable family man to something quite different.
With her gone, we observed his rapidly deteriorating mental state with helpless despair, doing all we could to eke out his days of precious independence in his own home. Despite all of our efforts and all the commitment and help of the agencies involved, it became evident quite early on that 24/7 care was needed.
His decline from that point was so painful to see.
What helped however, was remembering him as the person he had always been inside. It’s much too easy to only see the outer shell and forget the person that has been, the contribution they have made to the world and the place they have carved out in a family. Trying to see him always in that context and trying not to lose sight of that essential thread of the essence of his soul helped me to see him as Dad and Grandad not just someone with Alzheimer’s.
As we say goodbye to him tomorrow I will be thinking of him and all he did for us and the fantastic Grandad that blessed our children’s lives. I won’t be thinking of the shell that settled itself around him in the final years – that’s just window dressing, I hope that somewhere he will be be finally back with Jenny and that there will be a malt whiskey and a tin of black bullets to hand and we shall raise a toast to him and thank them both for being a precious part of our story and living on through us. They will not be here in person but they will undoubtedly be ever present and our lives are blessed that they are a part of us all.
Cheers David – there will be no water in mine.