My Gramps died a couple of weeks ago. It's not a tragedy; he was old and had been fading for a while- it wasn't a surprise and honestly, it was a relief when he died. At the end, he couldn't swallow, couldn't even take liquids and silently I hoped he'd go fast, wouldn't hang on and die of thirst or hunger.
A while before he died, he ended up in hospital due to a chest infection. He wasn't eating but I was pretty sure it was just because he was too proud to let the nurses feed him. We'd always had a slightly distant relationship- he wasn't demonstrative or involved in my life and consequently I found it hard to get close to him but because my mother, his daughter, was away overseas, it fell to me to take care of him. I went in daily, several times a day, fed him, tried to get him to eat. Or, mainly I just hoped he wouldn't be so despondent after my visits.
He was born in England in the midst of the depression to a desperately poor working class family, the same as all my family. He worked the mines from fourteen (leaving his family for the metropolis of Leeds) til nineteen, conscripted by the crown and then spent eight months in prison for running off in the seventh year (the second after the end of the war.) Not that he ever talked about it, his months in a prison camp, but my grandmother used to confide in me so I knew more than most.
I wasn't close to him- he was far too old school and gruff for any true connection- but I always knew he loved me, he loved me, he was proud of me even when I struggled to be proud of myself. He was a joker, sharp witted in a way that seems cruel to anyone not used to Yorkshire sarcasm and humour. When I was a teenager, he used to poke fun at my weight in a way that made me conscious of the fat at my hips and my jiggling tits, it made me uncomfortable and maybe I would've felt ugly but he always smiled at me and told me how beautiful I was. My eyes, my nose, how beautiful and strong my face was, that he'd never seen anything like me, never seen anyone who knocked his breath out quite like I did. It was the perfect thing to say because I've always known I'm not pretty, not beautiful, but I could accept that I'm striking. Striking, that was his word for me- not pretty but striking, like an assault, as if my face, ugly or beautiful, wasn't average or easy to forget and that was easier to accept than any other compliment.
I loved that about him- he never lied, never. He loved me and more than anything I'm glad I was able to show him I loved him before he died. Show him, because as loquacious and silver-tongued as he was, he knew that actions are all that really matter.
I'll miss the man I knew, the humble, always positive, loving but solitary and closed man that I knew and I'll miss the father that my mum talks about, the engaged, enthusiastic parent that I never got to see except through her eyes. I wish I'd known him like that but that's neither here nor there. I'm glad I knew him at all- I'm better for it and I know it.