My Grandad died seven years ago today. He was a gentleman. A caring man, who loved his sport, loved walking, loved chatting to people. He was a new man half a century before new men were invented who did his bit round the house. Possibly he’s the reason the female line of his family has never been keen to tidy the kitchen!
I wasn’t especially close to my Granny and Grandad. My mum and dad were from the generation that moved away from their home town to make a new life somewhere else.
Whereas with women wanting and needing to work and the cost of childcare sky-high, I am from the generation that stays as close to mum and dad as possible. That’s why my kids are so close to their grandparents. When I see how close they are, I feel sad that I didn’t know Granny and Grandad better.
Granny and Grandad lived an hour and a half’s drive away before the M42 was opened – an hour after. They didn’t drive, so visited us on the train or the bus. Which they enjoyed. They were active and independent. My Granny was blind in one eye, so my Grandad was her eyes.
Although they weren’t always there, I have fond memories of some special times with them. In my mind they are in their 60s and robust, not the withered skeletons they became at the end.
For two consecutive years, when I was about 10 or 11, my brother and I went on the train with them for our holiday. Our family car wasn’t big enough for five people plus luggage, so mum and dad drove down with my sister, and we got the train with Granny and Grandad and a pile of summer special comics. Kids these days just don’t understand the excitement of a summer special comic, particularly one read on the train to the seaside!
When my sister was a baby, my brother and I used to go and stay with Granny and Grandad for a few nights in the summer holidays. My Grandad would get the train down, meet us on the platform, and go straight back with us. He loved trains and always had stories to tell us and a little poem about wanting a train to Birmingham, but ending up in Crewe.
In the late 90s, and still going strong, they moved down to live near us all in sheltered accommodation. They were so happy in their little flat. In those early months, they would think nothing of walking the three miles to my mum and dad’s house.
It was only a year later that Grandad had a big operation. He pulled through it fine, but lost a bit of his strength and confidence. The long walks became a bit shorter.
Granny had an underlying health problem which was getting harder and harder to manage and she had a big operation in 2002. I thought we were going to lose her, but she made it through. But now they were shadows of their former selves – eating less, doing less and increasingly reliant on my mum to do things for them.
Although when I had my second son in 2003, my Granny still offered to help me out by cleaning my bathroom! I wanted to say to her ‘But I should be helping you!’ but she had her pride and really wanted to help at what she knew would be a difficult time in any woman’s life.
One day as I was driving home, I stopped to let a frail, elderly couple cross the road. It took me a couple of seconds to realise it was my own grandparents. Outside their own home they looked so much smaller, frailer and more vulnerable.
By 2005, they were really starting to struggle. We were on holiday in Center Parcs with my mum and dad in the spring. When mum spoke to Grandad, he said ‘We’re in a mess.’ They just couldn’t cope without my mum any more. I went to see them with my mum after that holiday and she made them porridge and they ate a choc ice. That was pretty much their staple diet by then. That was the last time I saw my Granny.
Another month, and my Grandad was in rapid decline, and Granny was in gradual decline. One Monday in May, my Granny went into the community hospital, a planned admission. At the same time, my Grandad went into the acute hospital, an emergency admission. While my Grandad rallied, my Granny started slipping away.
At the time my mum and dad took a lot of weekends away, almost certainly to get away from the pressures of caring for their parents and grandchildren. They were away the weekend after Granny and Grandad went into hospital. I planned to visit them both, but mum said Granny was too ill and I shouldn’t go because it would be too upsetting. So I went to see my Grandad, who was in good spirits.
The day before Granny died, my mum rang me in tears, saying ‘I can’t bear to see her like that’. She was so uncomfortable and so unhappy. Her death, 10 days after that routine hospital admission, the last time she saw my Grandad, would have been a welcome release.
My Grandad was well enough to go to the funeral, although he was in a wheelchair and looked so small and pale.
When he was ready to leave hospital he didn’t want to go home, so my mum found him a nice care home round the corner from his flat. He thrived in the care home. He was happy and comfortable and the staff were friendly. My two little boys and I watched the drama of 7/7 unfold on the TV in my grandad’s room.
Two months later I arrived at my mum’s house to drop the kids off to find my mum still in her nightgown – a bad sign. My grandad had been ill in the night and my mum had spent the night at the care home and the hospital. He picked up quickly and everyone started dismissing his illness as just a bad dose of constipation.
Two days later it was my birthday. We invited my mum out for lunch, but she said she had better go and see her dad in hospital. Thank goodness she did. That evening my dad went to see him and talked to him for 40 minutes. He was switched on and seemed very aware of what was going on in the world. But the next morning they got a call to say he was very ill. My mum, dad and sister were with him when he died a few minutes later.
Even though they were a smaller part of my life than my own children’s grandparents, I still think about them a lot. They knew my boys and found them entertaining. My Grandad knew I was expecting another baby, but my Granny died before I was pregnant.
She would have adored my little girl. She loved girls. My mum was always her favourite and, as the eldest daughter of her favourite, and her first grandchild, so was I. Even though I wasn’t always the best granddaughter. She was desperate for me to have a little girl and convinced herself both my boys would be girls. She was at an age where if she wanted to be tactless and express disappointment at the gender of her great-grandchild – she would!
I will spare an extra thought for them both today. It’s hard to believe it has already been seven years.