Observations From Isolation: Ch.8 – On The Death Of Grandpa, And The Three Generations That Have Come After…
Grandpa died a couple of weeks ago, drifting off in a morphine fog sometime in the night. It wasn’t anything to do with The Virus, just the slow and dignified end to a life spent, in the main, stalking first the fertile sheep fields of the English and French countrysides, then in classrooms and boardrooms and finally his bedroom, slipping away between the sheets on a dark, early summer’s eve, the only sound the lowing of cattle in the verdant Yorkshire fields outside his window.
I knew him, of course, all my life, but I never really knew him until around ten or twelve years ago. By then, he’d mellowed with age, and having accomplished more than many men or women of his ilk, found more joy in his own garden surrounded by a sea of colour, all of his own planting, and at his table, surrounded by a glass, several glasses, of French red wine.
He revelled in it all and had more time for, in particular, his grandchildren and rapidly multiplying great-grandchildren.
Dad died a little over four years ago, a life cut short in an instant, an unknown heart condition calling it all off as he dozed watching ABC’s 7:30, an empty bowl on the coffee table in front of him, half a glass of wine next to it, the dog tucked up against him on the couch. He was only fifty-nine, and the shock was numbing.
Dad was Dad, no matter what he did. He was Business Dad for a long time, then with age, he mellowed and became, almost alarmingly, hippie Dad. He was always kind and strong though, he was always laughing, he was a Good Dad – there was little he wouldn’t do for you, for those he considered close to him, to those he felt in need. Indeed, he was a Good Person, and the shock of his death was, is, numbing, for years afterwards.
I was born almost forty years ago. I am, quit obviously, still here and I have indeed known myself all my life. Better, perhaps, in the past twenty years, as I’ve come to make my own path in life, taking cues from the two men before me, but also creating my own, melding them with my wife’s, forging a life for us in a town, in a state and country, on a planet that continues, at least at this stage, to turn and to carry on and to exist.
Adeline was born a little over three years ago, the first of the paternal line to be born in Australia, and I have certainly known her for her entire life; indeed, I feel as if I’ve known her for my entire life. She met her great-Grandpa, but not her Grandpa. She knows his picture though, and the star my sister and I designated Dad Star, she knows where that is and can point it out and tells me Grandpa Bill is up there somewhere, looking after us all.
One of my cousins refers to Yorkshire as God’s own country. Grandpa wasn’t God, but he could have been confused as same by those only vaguely familiar with him. He wrote books, he taught and he lectured, he invented sheep breeds and was honoured by the Queen; he was, by many accounts, a formidable man in his prime, to the extent that he as a father perhaps wasn’t what he could or should have been to his five sons.
Whatever happened over the years, or didn’t happen, he and Dad made up at some point and Dad called him “the old boy” and I think they enjoyed drinking wine together in the final few times they spent in each other’s company.
We’d find ourselves in the mother country every two or three years, making the long journey from the Antipodes to visit him and Granny, the uncles, the aunts, the cousins and the kids. We did it the two of us, Claire and I, for years, then the three of us, with Addy. The last time we were there, Grandpa didn’t really know who we were, but he happily sat in his chair, smiling at us, at the tiny hurricane that bundled across his living room carpet, bumping off the couch, the dozing dog, the glass doors out to the patio.
Granny would chat constantly, asking us questions by the barrow-load, and so Grandpa was, or had learned to be, quite content to just sit and listen. He didn’t know who we were, but he knew we were special to him in some way, and that seemed to make him happy.
Dad knew my wife. Claire and I met almost ten years before he died. He loved her, couldn’t believe I’d found someone like her. In a nice way, I’d like to think. When we used to visit him and Mum at their place in the middle of nowhere, a couple of hours north of Melbourne, they’d get into great debates on the business merits of this and that, what he was doing, what she was doing. They both had out-of-the-box ways of thinking, and so quite often agreed with one another, while Mum, my sister and I were left rolling our eyes and wondering, if they agreed so heartily, why the conversation had gone on for so long.
I wanted to, had planned to, head over to the UK for Grandpa’s funeral. I knew it’d be happening at some point in the reasonably near future, and I wanted to be the one from Australia to head over and represent the family from Down Under. In the current climate though, this wasn’t possible and so I chatted with an uncle over the phone, another over email, and received the updates on the progress of Grandpa’s funeral arrangements. I saw the photos, and read bits and pieces on the family WhatsApp thread.
I’d emailed Granny a few days before Grandpa died, telling her how we three were doing, how we were in isolation, but that we were lucky in that we had the space to move, to breath. I told her how, given the weather, we were spending so much time at the beach and how much Addy loved the beach. I sent her some photos, which I assume she showed Grandpa.
I look up and try to find Dad Star any time I’m outside at night, it’s become as normal as breathing or eating. In the winter, the star slips over the western horizon almost before if becomes visible in the gathering darkness, but I know it’s there. Addy knows too, although she’s not sure where it’s gone right now.
I keep on living life, trying to be a good person, looking back at the two before me.
And looking forward at the young one after me, trying to help her do the same.