Goodbye Grandad

goodbye Grandad portrai

photo by Jenny

Today is my first day of my holiday in Spain. More importantly, it also would have been my Granny and Grandad’s Golden Wedding Anniversary, but sadly my Grandad died in October 2014. 

To mark this occasion I thought I’d share an essay I wrote at the beginning of the year for my English portfolio about losing my Grandad to prostate cancer nearly three years ago. This is a very different style of writing to my other blog posts, but I hope you can take a couple of minutes to read it. 

Thank you.

Grandad's bench with a posy at Blairgowrie golf course, overlooking the 18th hole

I’d never been to a crematorium before. I’d never even been to a funeral. It was teeming with people - family, friends, strangers. I remember walking down pew by pew, hit by waves of sympathy from every face. I couldn’t hold back the floods of tears streaming down my face as I took my seat at the front. It was all too real, too raw. Grandad truly was gone.

The summer of 2010 marked the beginning of the end, disguised as Grandad’s sore back. This quickly improved and life seemed to carry on as normal. His 70th birthday arrived in the winter of 2012. Our family celebration is one of my happiest memories, but I was unaware of the severity of his condition, oblivious to the weight carried by everyone else.

The following spring I learned that Grandad was more than just ill. I knew that something wasn’t right, with so many phone calls to Perth. Confused, I asked my mum. He had cancer. Twelve-year-old me had never considered the possibility of cancer. Although old enough to understand it was bad, I didn't appreciate what it meant for the future. He was still his same lovely, cheery, caring self, showing no noticeable signs of the effects of cancer. I didn’t realise how suddenly things could change.

2014 was a rollercoaster of emotions as Grandad deteriorated. Increasing pain prevented him from tending to his beloved garden and his final visit to Glasgow was in April. Monthly trips to Perth became fortnightly, then weekly. My aunt visited Scotland more frequently. I can barely begin to imagine how it felt for such an active man to lose so much of his independence. I sought comfort in baking, challenging myself to turn Grandad’s favourite flavours into cupcakes. Marmalade. Hot chocolate. Sticky toffee pudding. Losing myself in recipes was the perfect solution. After all, how could the cruelty of cancer be real if I refused to believe? Grandad would be fine - he’d made it through a few scares already, surely he’d make it through a couple more? 

But cancer shows no mercy. It takes no account of age nor character when selecting its victims. As the months went by, it was clear Grandad was getting weaker with multiple stays in Cornhill House, the hospice just a stone’s throw from their home. He suffered pain taking even a few steps, let alone playing golf several times a week with his buddies. We visited for my birthday, chocolate orange cake in hand. He was struggling but there was still hope - with less than two months until Granny’s 70th birthday, his determination to reach that milestone gave him the strength to survive.

Her birthday arrived and Grandad seemed so much better. Although wheelchair-bound, he was home again. He’d made it to Granny’s 70th! Close family and friends gathered, giving love, care and support. I baked a towering cake smothered in cream and berries. The party couldn’t have gone better. Grandad was on brilliant form, by far the most popular man in the room. The cancer was almost completely forgotten. Everything seemed perfect. He was okay, perhaps he’d make Christmas.

But cancer doesn’t like being forgotten. 

Less than a week later Grandad was back in Cornhill, in worse condition than before. My brother and I were taken out of school, not truly realising what it meant for Grandad’s health. Selfishly, it just seemed like a few days skipping school, not the last few days I’d ever spend with Grandad.

I remember expecting to enter the room in Cornhill to see him sitting by the window, chatting and laughing with family, the usual twinkle in his eyes. Instead, he was bed bound and heavily sedated, almost comatose. That was the first time I realised he was approaching his death. My last ever conversation with Grandad was that evening, when he regained some consciousness and recognised my voice. 

Thursday and Friday passed with no change. It was tough, so many of us in that small room, struggling to accept the inevitable. Only time would tell.

I was woken on the morning of Saturday the 4th of October with the news of Grandad’s death. His life ended peacefully, at around 2 o’clock that morning.

Grief. Pain. Despair.

Why him?

One of the kindest, purest, most genuine people I have ever known. Loved by everyone who knew him. It wasn’t fair. It couldn’t be real. Grandad couldn’t be gone. 

We went back to Cornhill to see him one last time. I was terrified of seeing a dead body, but all I saw was my Grandad. He was sleeping, peaceful. No more raspy breaths or grunts of pain. No more fear. He was free at last.

But we couldn’t give up now that he was dead. We shared the loss together, cherishing our memories of him. Funeral preparations distracted us. As a family we grew closer, became stronger. I baked loaf cakes in an attempt to fill the absence of his presence. The funeral itself came and went too quickly. There were so many attendees in memory of such a beloved, respected man that we ran out of copies of the order of service. The flowers were beautiful. I was brought to tears by the few sprigs of heather specially for me.

It would have been his 72nd birthday that December. Our grief still acute, we gathered as a family to mark the occasion. I remember walking one of his favourite routes up Kinnoull Hill looking along the River Tay, longing for his bright character. We followed the same walk a year after his death, this time carrying his ashes to scatter at the summit. I’d never seen anyone’s ashes before. For him to fit in a small cylinder made no sense - Grandad was a tall, strong man who couldn’t possibly be restricted to such a tiny space. So we let him go, his ashes flying like birds in the wind.

Two years have passed and I’ve never stopped missing him. Even now, I struggle to accept that I’ll never see, touch or talk to him again. What would life be like were he still here? Would I be any different? Looking back, I realise that I never really appreciated the power of time until Grandad’s ran out. Sharing the loss as a family has brought us closer than ever before, so I’m thankful for that. We still remember him, talk about him and think of him. I’m grateful I had the chance to know and love such an incredible human being. 

I’ll never forget you Grandad.