Prior to losing my Grandma in 2011, I hadn’t lost any close member of my family. Sharing the hospital watch between us as a family in exhausted shifts, as we watched her gently slip away, was a defining moment in my life. And whilst I loved my Grandma just as much as I loved my Grandpa, there was something life altering about losing him, a few years later. Two years ago to this day, in fact.
I can feel that all-too-familiar well of emotion slowly filling my chest as I type these words and recall the memory of it all. He had been due to spend Christmas with my sister’s family and parents in a beautiful hired house in the Lake District, and had been really looking forward to it. It’s such a bittersweet memory for us all that he never got to share that experience. Eased only by the fact that we all knew by then how much he was ready for his life to end. Ready to rejoin his beloved wife, my Grandma Edna.
Grandpa Norman and Grandma Edna with my sister and I
(me in the foreground)
When Grandpa received his initial diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, it was a huge shock to us all. We knew he’d been poorly, and looking back, if I’m honest, we’d all observed a decline in his overall health and outlook since losing Grandma. But despite that, he still seemed physically fit as a fiddle and he never looked his age. For a gentleman (and he was an absolute gentleman) in his early 90’s, you could easily have mistaken him for being in his mid 70’s. Legend has it he used to get through 60 cigarettes a day in his more formative years, but the Grandpa I know was dedicated to health and habit. He refused to use microwaves after a health scare in the 1980’s, he ate an orange and bowl of porridge at the same time every morning, and as a young child, I recall the bottles of vitamins and cod liver oil to keep his joints supple, lined up on the side.
We weren’t naive – we’d have conversations about ‘what we’d do’ when Grandpa dies – purely and only because we were aware of his age. But I would have put money on him having another ten good years ahead of him. Cancer simply wasn’t on my radar. It wasn’t on any of our radars.
We sat huddled around Grandpa’s hospital bed, holding his hand as he received his diagnosis – my sister, mum and I trying our best to show a united display of strength – for his sake. I vividly recall the sensation of hot tears seepign from my eye lids, whilst Grandpa graciously accepted his fate, nodding, and saying to the Doctor, ‘I’m not scared Doctor, I’m ready. The first half of my life was purgatory – but the second half has been wonderful, I’ve been a very lucky man.’
I wanted him to tell me again how kind the Jewish families had been to him throughout the war, how much he adored those ‘proper bagels’ from the Jewish bakery and how when he was young, there would be 6 in-a-bed. His father, by all accounts, had been a troubled and very difficult man – there were regular ‘thrashings’ with the belt. His mother, on the other hand, she had been the backbone of the family who he admitted on several occasions during intimate conversation, that he loved very much. My mental image of her after our chats over the years was of a hard working woman, bent over the sink with her apron on, working hands aged before their time and skilfully going about preparing huge pots of peeled potatoes for her children’s dinner.
I always felt that Grandpa was ultimately the one to credit for my success with Love My Dress and running my own business and am to this day convinced that he passed on that ‘entrepreneurial gene’ to me. Looking back, I still have absolutely no idea where I found the bravery to walk away from a full time, well paid job in 2011 to pursue my blogging career. But I did, and I like to think that it was a part of my Grandpa’s DNA and working spirit that gave me the confidence to do so at the time.
I wanted to talk about all of this and find out more – I romanticised about being sat hunched over his bed in the dim glow of the hospice ward evening light, my iPhone recording his voice as I took notes with my pen and pad, laughing together as Grandpa recalled his life for me.
Six weeks after his initial diagnosis however, Grandpa had died.
Part of me will always believe he willed his death a little closer, a little quicker, because he had simply accepted his fate and wanted out. He verbalised as much, whilst he was able. He’d had enough, it was clear to see. And honestly, we all longed for him to be out of pain and reunited with his wife. I can only imagine what it might be like, being at the end of your life, missing the partner you spent most of your years with, knowing that most, if not all of your friends have already gone and finally, wholeheartedly and spiritually being ready to accept your maker’s will. Since entering my 40’s, the prospect of longevity is something I’ve become much more aware of and my mortality is something I’ve become more accepting of. Death comes to us all eventually but I feel much easier with this fact these days than I ever have before.
Seeing Grandpa so bravely accept his fate gives me hope. We were lucky, really, and so was he. Inside, his heart might have been breaking to be with his wife, his body was tired and he was weary – but my family were able to comfort Grandpa in his final weeks, days and hours. He was surrounded by loved ones constantly – we played old Al Bowlly tunes to him that we hoped would weave their way into his dying dreams. My mum kept an almost 24/7 bedside vigil – and when family weren’t there, then the utterly wonderful staff of the hospice were. He slipped away gently in the early evening hours of 11th December 2014.
It’s a surreal, inexplicable thing, death. The passing of a loved one leaves an incredible, indelible imprint into your every day – months, years after they have gone. My view of the world since losing my Grandpa has changed significantly. I remember a good friend comforting me in the days after he had passed; ‘he’ll be everywhere around you, always, the blades of grass, the leaves, the rain’. I was overwhelmed and couldn’t really process what she was saying. Now, I can’t watch a single Autumn leaf making it’s gentle, graceful fall without feeling a sense of comfort and inner joy that my Grandpa’s spirit is close.
I hope you won’t mind me sharing my memories with you this morning. We’ve actually shared some lovely features relating to bereavement and loss on Love My Dress that I think will comfort those of you facing planning a wedding in the absence of a loved one;
- Marrying without your mum
- How to involve and honour lost loved ones on your wedding day
- Getting through your wedding in the absence of a loved one
- A wedding after bereavement
- With or without you – marriage and bereavement (beautifully written piece by our former team member, Franky)
I miss you Grandpa Norman – we all miss you very, very much indeed.
Love Annabel x