Ten years ago today…
grandpa died. I remember little of that day. I had that vague foreboding feeling, that feeling I didn’t have a name for. I was happy, it was my golden birthday the next day and I was having a nice weekend with my parents, but there was something wrong. My English grandfather had died four months before and I guess I thought life was getting back to normal so to speak. I remember going to my favourite antiquarian bookshop, now closed. I remember swinging around a lamp post because I had watched Singin’ in the Rain that morning. But in the evening when we were watching television, the phone rang. It was the hospital. There had been so many false alarms, mostly for my grandmother, over the decades, but this was different. We drove to the hospital. I can’t remember the drive at all. All I remember is Mom going in and then coming out, shaking her head. I went in myself. I wanted to see him. I’ve never been afraid of dead bodies like some of my family members. I burst into tears. Not loud or embarrassing. I just cried. He was lying there, 86 years old and still lithe and muscular. Strong as an ox until the end. His heart was weakened by congestive heart failure and an accidental morphine overdose in the hospital several months previously. He could have lasted longer. He looked a little yellow but he almost looked like he was sleeping. Life had only just left him a hour or so before. He was luke warm to the touch, but I could feel that his core was still very warm, life ebbing away. I kissed him on the cheek. I whispered in his ear that I loved him. I don’t remember how or when I moved away. After that, things are a little blank. White like empty pages in a notebook, black like the night sky. Full and hollow. Things have never been the same since. Not with the family. Not with me. I’ve felt closer to death ever since. I painted a tiny black heart on my left thumb. Every time it grew off, chipped off, faded away, I have repainted it. For ten years. Maybe I should let go. But I do it for him. This morning I woke up thinking about him. One memory floods my mind. When I was 11 or 12, he dragged out his old cardboard Xerox box of his WWII U.S. Air Force things. He showed me this tiny compass, no bigger than his thumbnail. I was enchanted.
"I carried this with me during the war every single day." I said ‘really?’ or ‘wow.’ I stared at the tiny thing, watching its little needle wobble to a halt. There was silence.
"It’s yours." I was so excited.
"Really?" I said softly looking up at him.
I held it in my hand this morning. Maybe he wasn’t always the nicest person, shaped by pain and dissatisfaction, but he was a good man. He was strong. He had emotion. He had integrity. He loved me. And I love him.