Around six weeks ago we received a phone call from Ireland that nobody wants to hear. Your Grandad has been diagnosed with multiple aggressive cancers and has a few months to live. Despite knowing the inevitable, getting that phone call on Sunday afternoon to hear his battle was quick but ultimately now over was still tough to take.
Many people see their Grandads every week or they live very close for me I only ever got to see him a few times a year when I went over to Ireland. Flying over to Ireland just won’t be the same anymore. Despite only seeing him a few times a year a Grandad is your Grandad and we were close. I will miss not hearing the same stories of the War or his time in the Jungle, or the tales of adventure and faraway places he had visited in his time here. I think it was just under 100 odd countries! I guess that travel bug worked its way through the genes and into me. The funny thing about hearing those stories is I never minded that I’d heard them 100 times before because every time there would be a new piece of information added. I don’t know if that was just the passage of time that details get added in or if he just recalled it differently with each time but they were still always interesting to hear.
The stories of his time as a signal man in the Royal Signals battling in the heat and intense fighting of the Jungle always fascinated me, yet terrified me to. I know he was forever grateful for all the sacrifices and protection the Gurkhas offered him and his men. He was always keen to tell me to the stories so that people didn’t forget that generation and everything that they did. I once asked him if he had ever fired his gun in combat or did he ever kill anyone. He was proud to say he fought a war without firing a shot in anger. He protected his fellow soldiers through his use of the radio and passing information. I find that a very courageous thing to do. A man who fights a war without a weapon is the kind of man I’m glad to have known. I am glad to have known him despite some of his flaws and mistakes. He could be a stubborn man and I guess that generation of make do and mend was a downfall at times, especially when it came to his inevitable cancer. I will however forever be indebted to him for his helping hand in getting me to where I am today. Back in 2013 when my life goals of being an Air Traffic Controller had fallen through he had no hesitation of matching my savings to afford me to go on to do a Masters degree. If I didn’t do that Masters I would not be here doing something that I love today. I always felt like I had to do him proud, to reward his investment and I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying to do that.
Despite how sad these times are I am glad that I got to see him one last time while he was alive, something I’m fully aware that not many people ever get the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one. It became quite aware to me over the past few years that every time I said goodbye to him to get back on the plane it always crossed my mind that that goodbye could be the last. When I flew out to see him a few weeks ago it was a weird feeling sitting alone on the plane heading to Ireland knowing that the goodbye would be the last one. He was still in hospital at the time and I had rehearsed what I was going to say. I wanted to thank him for everything he’s done, I wanted to thank him for being my Grandad and I wanted to ask if I had done him proud. I was told that the day before he was on a good day and that he was chatting and looking well so I was hopeful that I could say those things. Unfortunately life doesn’t always give you the ending that you wanted. By time I arrived at the hospital he was on a very bad day, something I know my Dad feels sorry that I saw but I am still glad I got to see him one last time. He was dazed and confused and only managed a few words and it wasn’t nice to see. I never got to ask any of those questions or talk for one last time.
I hate hospitals. Always have and always will. Those places took far too many years of my childhood for me to ever feel comfortable in them. Having to deal with all of the memories and the smells is bad enough when you’re trying to repress them to say your final goodbyes to your Grandad. I’m not going to lie, I was holding back trying not to throw up in the ward due to the heat and the smell and weight of the occasion. It also hit home that I was once a patient as a kid sitting in a bed in an oncology ward. Luckily for me my tumour was sorted and despite the few odd niggles in my leg from time to time touch wood, all is okay. I felt sad looking at him that such a positive outcome was not on the cards for him.
When the nurses came in to get him ready for bed all I managed as I was walking out of the ward was my last words for him “I’ll see you around”. Not the words I rehearsed in my head but oddly fitting in the end.
I am glad that his final days where spent pain free at home, looking out onto the garden that he loved, watching the numerous birds that would come and go. Especially the giant stork who would land to be fed every morning. I find great comfort in knowing that he did go peacefully and pain free and that ultimately his battle with cancer was quick and short. He also lived a good life and is something that does soften the pain of losing him.
Losing a loved one is never a good thing and I do wish I could have asked those questions to him but I am fully aware that I am lucky I got to see him at all, I know many people never do get that chance. I have great memories of him that I will cherish forever and I know on Saturday when the funeral is over it will be tough but ultimately he is in a better place now. I’m not particularly religious but I do like the idea of somewhere better.
I hope I continue to make him proud, I will continue to try and visit as many places as I can and I will continue to try and have a positive impact on people as best as I can. So for one last time the soldier can lay down his weapon and rest easy. Thank you for everything Grandad and I guess “I’ll see you around”.