One of our regular writers in this culture blog reflects on death and the passing of his grandfather
In life, there comes a point where the raising of old ghosts come to the fore at a time when it seems as though they’ve never been so far away. It is said that that anything that provokes human emotion, be it the birth of a child or the massacring of a nation, is beautiful, that something good always arises out of something that, in one way or the other, takes its toil upon another. The beauty of life may begin at the first breath, but it does not cease to exist with the last. There is always something, even if minute, that can be discovered and cherished from every wreckage. There is always hope.
At the tender age of twenty, this is what I’ve come to learn from the death of my grandfather, who died two and a half years ago on a leafy August afternoon. We hate to admit it, but even though they lie within our thoughts every day, it is always felt that those who’ve passed are not in our minds often enough. Death is the most surreal of peculiarities; such is our fear that one day, from one way or the other, our life and the lives of those around us will be no more, we, as the wonderful wordsmith, Martin Amis, has said, spend our lives “looking the other way” for as long as mentally possible. Yet, no matter how hard we try, there comes a point for us all when we turn our backs on the world.
My grandfather was, in essence, quite like any other; good-spirited, with an adoration of his wife, son and daughter, and his two grandchildren. He was, of course, grouchy just like grandfathers the world over, and it’s this particular trait, a lovable one, I might add, that I find myself sharing with him even more so now he’s gone. He, like I now, was easily wound-up, yet he encompassed a sense of humour about it all, which I feel I now have too. And therein lies the question – what inheritance do those who leave us leave behind them for us to store within ourselves?
I still see his loss deep within my mother and my grandmother. They are of the fragile kind – immensely rooted in kindness for others, gentle and caring. Even at a young age, as I watched my grandfather grow older, and his health, over time, grow weaker, part of me always felt no doubt in knowing that my mother needed his guidance, as much as my grandfather needed hers. When someone we love leaves, we no longer exist in the previous world; it’s a colder, much more barren landscape. I ask my mother of this new world she entered into not three years ago, but we both know that, at times, there are no words.
Never are the meticulous fragilities of human-nature distorted more than when someone we’ve known since birth, whom we’ve loved, whose face we’ve come to know, is a person no more, but a memory. For those who are frail in character, it is yet another crushing blow in a world too often scorned with sorrow. For those who feel unbreakable, invincibility appears destructible, characters seem collapsible, the common mould is warped into a disturbing unrecognisable shadow of what it once was. And part of us drifts away for good, too.
I found that seeing death through the eyes of another, it became lesser of an evil I had once imagined, that it was not to be as feared, nor was it something to dwell upon. Why yes, part of us leaves for good, but in a number of cases, our eyes open, too, to the frailties of the existence of mankind, and how in the grand scheme of things, there is a beauty in how meaningless the purpose of life is to the world as a whole. After all, there is but one chance to make the most of what we have, what we’ve been given, and the time of which we reside on earth.
Despite not being a man who could have enjoyed the best of health, I like to think that my grandfather, when his time came to, as they say, “not leave us, but enter another room” had enjoyed the time he’d been given, and had no regrets. His family loved him, and he knew that.
Before the year 2000, when he was to become seventy, he predicted he wouldn’t be alive to see the millennium in. He made it, though, which my mother, on September 11th 2001, his 71st birthday, reminded him of fondly. His world did not end, but a year on from his prediction, a group of young men boarded aircrafts in America, and in a ferocious moment of savagery, brought a brutal end to a world we once knew.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise the things I miss the most become more apparent, the further it seems I’ve travelled without them. When I walk through the centre of my town, with its gaudy, decrepit buildings, its cracked pavements and closed businesses, I miss the trudge of his car, slowly crawling down the road towards me, a hand arising in the way he saluted his closest family members the same as those he barely knew. I miss the way he’d park his car, motion me towards him, and produce the watch of an old-friend that I was to change the hour on as he didn’t know how. I never did show him just how easy it was; it was always a pleasure to hear him call me a “genius” despite it only taking two simple presses of a button.
The age-old saying that “it’s always good to write it down,” despite being a cliché, holds a significant proportion of truth. At the most bizarre of times, I find myself lost, words flowing through my head, with nothing to explain where they came from, and why they arrive. I write them down, and they become tiny fractions of poems that will lay scattered at various places along the way. Some make sense to me, others may have been written by someone else who was too eager to impress, or to desperate to find something that was never going to come. When looking to discover something in the dark, holding the torch at its brightest won’t always bring the best results. So I write words, and in my own way, I’ve tried to come to terms with everything I lost. Many are about my grandfather, many lay as constructed pathways to the person I think that I’ve become. Before Christmas, I wrote a poem about another man; an alcoholic, who roamed the same roads everyday, alone and lost in a busy labyrinthine. And now he’s gone, too, succumbing to ill-health a few days ago.
When my grandfather passed, I found myself zoning in on literature more; at times, I’d almost block myself out from reality, and immerse myself in fiction. Old songs took on new meanings, particular movie scenes became more profound. I found it rather easy to escape the mundanity, to break down the harsh walls of boredom, and find myself in a place of ease. Over time, I’ve learned to accept the happening for what it is – solace can be found if one imagines that one is born alone, but dies and goes where every person that has ever existed goes. I don’t believe in supernatural beings hovering in the sky, nor do I feel any particular notion that something lies ahead after we’re done here. Some may view this as morbid, but I’ve come to find myself taking fancy to the belief that nothingness lies ahead. With this belief, I find life, with all its bizarre peculiarities, more celebratory.
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