I often speak to my Grandad – I’m not sure whether he can hear me but I do it all the same. When we first lost him back in 2016, there was a couple of occasions where I would smell his home smell; he was always tinkering in his shed, making something or other so he would smell of grease and oil. That was really strange, I’d be going about my day at home or at the shops and I could smell him like he was standing right next to me. I sometimes wonder why and how this happened, and also why it doesn’t anymore.
Grandad was a kind man, a man that would do anything for the people he loved. He made me my first scooter with pram wheels and odd bits and bobs out of a skip. He’d draw and colour me pictures in birthday cards and would come round at half 6 in the morning for a cup of tea. My favourite memories are when I would sit on his knee and he’d recite poems he’d made up or he would ring to say “I love you.” He’d also bike to the rec and feed the birds and ducks.
He was a proud man and hated going to the doctors. One day Aunt made him have a check up which landed him a space in hospital for some tests. I remember visiting him on the Wednesday evening with Mum and Dad. He seemed cheerful and was cracking jokes and telling stories, mainly because they said he was OK to go home. I remember kissing him goodbye on his leathery cheek, his stubble scratchy which was unlike him as he normally shaved everyday.
Grandad never did come home – his test results came back and they’d found a shadow on his lung. They thought it was asbestosis due to him working in old buildings when he was young.
The next time I visited was the following Saturday. I did a morning shift at Screwfix and Dad didn’t have good news when he picked me up. He told me that Grandad had a big stroke in the early hours and had gone into a coma. “But he was fine on Wednesday,” I remember saying.
At the time Mum and her sister had fallen out making it awkward around Grandad’s bedside as her, my Uncle and cousins were also there. I stayed close to my sister as I didn’t know what to make of the situation, we also hadn’t spoken to our two cousins either.
Grandad looked so different compared to when I last saw him. His stubble had grown considerably and I’d never seen his hair so long. He was connected to a drip and a breathing machine – his inhales were deep and loud and the machine would often beep. I said to Mum that if Grandad could talk. he would’ve wanted to be clean shaven.
He was on a ward with other elderly patients but they didn’t seem to be as ill. I always felt sorry for them and their visitors, watching the drama and tension between two families and a comatose man in the middle. However, I was more concerned and angry that Grandad wasn’t able to have his own room and more privacy than just a thin curtain, he deserved better than that.
Mum’s brother would often pop in, his wife Sharon worked at the hospital so she organised us a family room which led out into a courtyard.
Over the weekend Mum and my Aunt started talking over their differences, a gesture for the sake of Grandad to begin with. Although, I think deep down they needed each other.
My sister Kelly and I sat at his bedside a lot, holding his hand and talking to him through the tears. We learned that it was possible he could hear us as hearing can be the last sense to go. We told him we loved him and that we had been feeding the ducks custard creams (there’s a pond at the front of the hospital where patients and visitors can sit)
Before the weekend was over, it was apparent Grandad was dying. On the Sunday Mum and Aunt told him that they had made up and that he didn’t have to worry anymore, his three children were going to be strong and look out for each other. We left the hospital in silence, the nurse’s words that we may get a phone call through the night on our minds.
The phone call didn’t come and we went to the hospital Monday evening. The tension between our two families had gone and it was almost like there hadn’t been a divide.
We were sat by Grandad’s side, something that was beginning to feel a bit normal when the heart monitor started beeping erratically. I remember Kelly looking at me in panic, grabbing my hand as she shouted for a nurse. It all happened so fast after that, the nurse running in and ushering us out of the ward, yanking the curtain around his bed.
We sat in the family room all together for what felt like an eternity. I started to feel cold so I asked Uncle Richard to get my hoodie which I had left on the end of Grandads bed in the commotion. He returned, but his face had fallen and his eyes were watery. My Aunt asked him, “what’s wrong.” He only shook his head.
The room erupted then. My Mum shouting, my Aunt at my cousins feet while she had a panic attack. I just felt numb. I remember finding my feet to look through the window of the door. There was a glass room the size of a small cupboard outside which looked into the ward. It contained a computer with a display of the readings connected to the patients on heart monitors. There was only one that was flat line and I knew who’s it was.
Auntie Sharon came in and confirmed what my Uncle had said. She explained that we could go in and see Grandad if we wanted to. I decided I wanted to go and say goodbye even though Mum protested that she didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think I had processed what had happened, I don’t actually think I knew what to expect.
I went back into the ward with Dad, taking a deep breath outside the curtain.
I will never forget what I saw. Grandad was laying on his back with a white sheet pulled up to his shoulders. His mouth was partially open and his skin yellow. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Where had my Grandad gone and who was this man? I kissed his cheek a final time and said goodbye.
I couldn’t comprehend the emotions I felt. My body didn’t know how to catch up with the events that had just happened. There were no more visits to the hospital, no more updates, but you don’t think “it’s because he’s died.” The realisation didn’t hit me for a long, long time.
The funeral didn’t take place until a month after his death.
While we were waiting for the funeral date, Mum said to me that she was going to go see him in his coffin with Kelly. I thought to myself that it might be a good idea for me to go too as I kept having nightmares of him in his hospital bed. I thought that seeing him dressed in his clothes with his face shaven and hair combed by the funeral service may erase the previous image I had.
The experience ended up being just as bad as the one before. They had dressed him in his favourite green body warmer and corduroy trousers, his glasses balanced precariously on his nose. I asked Mum why he wasn’t wearing his watch. She told me it had gone missing in hospital, or it had been stolen. She had warned me beforehand that he may look different since I last saw him in hospital but I didn’t understand what she meant until I saw him myself. His cheeks had sunken and his nose looked thin, his skin white and cold to touch. He looked like Grandad, but I knew he wasn’t there.
His funeral was the first I’d ever been to. My cousin held my hand the entire time and sat with me in the car as we didn’t have significant others. She brought red roses with her which we put on top his coffin when it was placed in the ground. The realisation that Grandad wasn’t coming back slowly started to sink in.
It was really difficult writing this. I was worried that it would upset some of my readers but it’s an experience I wanted to share and get off my chest.
My nightmares stopped after I had therapy, but the experience has definitely had an impact on my life. It’s taught me that life is short and to hold my nearest and dearest close. I never go to sleep on an argument and even though I’ve always said I love you, I say it even more now.
There was one time when I lost my Nans tiger eye ring and I hunted for it high and low. (I keep all my rings in a vintage glass dish that Mum brought me but it was empty) Close to tears I suddenly asked Grandad out loud to help me find it. I looked some more, re-checking the dish and there it was. I can promise you it was empty when I first started looking. It’s pretty bizarre because the same thing happened to Mum when she lost her engagement ring. She looked through her jewellery box many times but found it in there after asking Grandad for help. Whether they are coincidences or not, they still bring us comfort. We still think that Grandad was never fully ready to move on until Mum and Aunt had made up.
I still don’t fully understand death, but I know Grandad is in a place where he’s no longer in pain; I hope he’s surrounded by birds and Fry’s Chocolate Creams.
I know he is watching over me and I sure hope he’s proud.