Sadly, and with less warning than we’d imagined we’d ever get, Grandad Riley died on the 4th of January.
He had been in a nursing home for the past 19 years as a multiple stroke victim and had a few brushes with death since. We all knew he would go, and that with that would come a sense of relief that he no longer had to suffer.
My dad, however, has been hit very hard by it. As you would no doubt expect.
I was never that close to Grandad as a person. It was when I was 2 that he suffered his first stroke, which was shortly followed by two more. He was a victim of his own generation’s lack of awareness about excess, as a postman in 1950’s Preston, you worked hard and you drank and smoked a lot when you had the time to do so. As with all people, he assumed he was immortal and despite doctors orders, didnt attempt to curb his lifestyle to suit his medical condition.
In my conscious memory I have always known Grandad as he was after the strokes. That makes my grief secondary; I feel sad at the idea of my dad losing his rather than at my own loss, it wasnt really there to begin with. Not that Grandad was entirely absent from my life, he had a charm about him that transcended his condition and would often punctuate our meeting with the words ‘Bloody ‘ell’. This phrase was one of the few he could muster without too much effort or pain, but it held a multitude of meanings. He could rarely get enough of seeing my (admittedly much better looking than me) sister, and would exclaim his staple-phrase louder whenever he got a proper look at her.
He did have some days however, where he was in pain. And stopping by to see him on these days was the most difficult task ever. My Dad would put a brave face on it and my Mum would be her usual self of chatting and interacting. I was fine as long as I didnt look at Dad. To have seen him in that condition, it doesnt really bear thinking about.
The 4th January was also the day that I heard back from EPIK. I got accepted to go and teach in Daejeon, my 3rd choice. Obviously, I’m very happy. I also dont quite know how to deal with going away a month from now, leaving Mum and Dad to have lost Grandad, and now me.
Whenever I think of it though, I can only summon an image of Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, which we visited at Christmas. I took a candid photo which I blew up for Dad’s birthday and there is something irretrievably sad and beautiful about the similarities of a figure standing and looking out along the bay.
I only hope it proves as a token of my return, and as a form of protection over my father while I’m away.