Part 2. Coping with loss through generations.
“It’s Grandpa.” She blurted. “He collapsed in his house this morning. The neighbours found him. They called me cos they couldn’t get hold of you.”
“What do you mean collapsed?”
“It could be a heart attack, I don’t know. They’ve taken him to St Thomas. I borrowed Jo’s car. Come on.”
“No” I told her. “That’s gonna take too long at this traffic. I’m just gonna run there.”
I ran, as Abi called out my name. No longer tired from my run, I was moving on adrenaline. I didn’t want to dissect in my head, what has happened to Grandpa. I just wanted to be near and see him. I rushed through the pavement pushing unapologetically past a lady with her dog, hoping the urgency in my body language was enough to tell her I was on an emergency. I ran through the traffic as a Prius sounded its horn at me. The hospital entrance came in my view.
I hurdled towards the reception.
“My grandfather was bought in my ambulance this morning. He collapsed, where would they have taken him?”
“When he was bought in, do you know?” The mild- mannered receptionist annoyed me with his calmness. I wanted him to have the same level of urgency as me.
“I don’t know, maybe two hours ago or something”
“Then he would still be in Emergency.” He pointed to the left as I ran towards it and buzzed in.
“My Grandad, was bought in my by an ambulance this morning, I told the nurse on the desk.
“What his name?”
“Eddie… sorry I mean Edward Cash”
She didn’t look at the system.
“Hang on,” She said softly and buzzed another nurse. They were joined in their mumbled conversation by a man in a tie, who ushered me into the waiting room.
“Hello, I’m Dr Chang.” He introduced himself. “How are you related to Mr Cash?”
“I’m his Grandson, what’s happening, where is he? My breathing became heavy, I took a deep breath, telling myself, it’s all procedure.
“Are you his next of kin?”
“Yes, my Grandmother’s dead, my Dad’s abroad and my uncle and aunt don’t live in London.”
“Please take a seat.” He pointed to the chair.
Something told me none of what was about to come out of his mouth was good.
“Your Grandfather had a major heart attack this morning. He had another minor on the way here. Unfortunately, there was nothing more we could have done. I am really sorry.”
His words floated and navigated inside of me, looking for a place inside my head to set. I was lost in essence of the room and its surroundings. Staring at Dr Chang and his sympathetic eyes.
“He is in Room 14. I will get a nurse to take you there. After this we can go through the paperwork.”
“Yes, to allow us to release his body and for you retrieve his death certificate.”
Just like that, Grandpa had become a statistic. His whole life, riddled to paperwork that I needed to fill out. The paperwork I asked for every day, when speaking to faceless people over the phone.
In Room 14, he was lying still on his back, in a deep peaceful sleep. I remembered our last conversation, only four days ago. How could he leave me so abruptly without any warning? I touched his cheek, it was warm. I wished he would wake up from this nap, like he used to, when I was little and crept into his room. I wondered he felt, before his final breath, did he feel alone? Did he feel pain or was it all just a big release?
Abi’s voice crept into my ears, thanking the nurse for directing her to the room. I felt her presence entering and standing behind me, letting out big tearful gasp. She walked near the bed and wrapped her arms around my chest. Her soft body squeezed against my sweaty vest from all the running. I couldn’t hug her back.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. We both dropped to the floor, our cries merging like doves, silent but in sync.
I sat on my bed, the sheets half on the floor, the duvet bundled at the end. I hadn’t made it in a couple of days. I focused in on my black shoes, the shiny spot on the top, glaring back at me.
“There you are.” Dad opened the door to my room, with a brown paper bag in his hands. “I was wondering where you got to.” He shut the door and with it, the muffled voices of the guest’s downstairs.
“Sorry, I just needed to be myself.” I told him.
“I understand, it’s been hard on you.” He came near, attempting to sit beside me but changed his mind and instead squeezed my shoulder.
“I’ve been meaning to thank you for having the Wake in your house, it can’t have been easy.”
“Abi did the organising. I can’t take all the credit.”
“Yeah, I need to thank her too. She’s good she is. It should have been in my house. But it all happened too quickly and you know those tenants have a contract for another month.”
“It’s ok, we were happy to host.”
“I should probably just rent it out on those Air BnBs, after this lot move out. More flexibility and more money.”
I looked at him from the corner of my eyes.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t really be talking about this now.”
“It was a good service wasn’t it?” I said.
“Yeah, I’m surprised so many people turned up.” His widen eyes, told of his genuine shock.
“He touched many lives. My friend Zahid from work was telling me that Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours. They don’t really celebrate life in a ceremony, like we did with Grandpa.”
“Different cultures see life and death differently.” Dad loosened his tie. “They give more emphasis to the afterlife – the Muslims, they think the world is just temporary.”
Dad, being this open and knowledgeable about others cultures, was not something I was used to. His brown face told me, he was picking up more than just a good tan in his travels.
“Was everything ok, coming back? Getting flights couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t, let me tell you.” He tilted his head sideways and nodded. “But soon as Sarah heard the news, she was in a mission to get us back. We were lucky to catch the connecting flight from France.”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know why I felt I had to apologise for him having to attend his own Dad’s funeral.
“She is alright you know-Sarah, she is not bad.” He told me.
“I didn’t say she was.”
“I know. But I get the feeling sometimes, maybe not everyone approves. Once you get to know her you will like her.”
“Dad, I do like her, I hadn’t much time to get to know her that’s all”
“So, you’re not upset?”
“My relationship and the divorce with your Mum, we never really spoke about it?” I wasn’t sure why Dad wanted to talk about it now, seven years later. Maybe Grandpa’s death made him vulnerable.
“Dad, it didn’t take a genius to know that you and Mum were not compatible. You’ve been sleeping in separate rooms, since I was 10.”
“Oh, you caught onto that.” He seemed let down that I was onto their open secret of Mum sleeping in my brother’s Dominic’s room, for any other reason, but for his care needs.
“I guess, our relationship was over for longer than I care to admit,” He told me. “We decided to stick it out, to give you guys the best start in life.”
I didn’t know what to make of Dad passing on the guilt of his prolonging failed marriage onto us.
“You didn’t have to be miserable for us, we would have coped.”
“I wasn’t miserable. Your Mum would have found it hard to cope with Dominic’s Downs, with me only being around part time. I couldn’t live with that either. We couldn’t choose us over his wellbeing and yours too.”
He had a point, as strong as Mum is, I cannot fault Dad for thinking the way he did. Growing up with Dominic was hard.
“Why didn’t you tell grandpa about Sarah?”
He went silent. “I don’t know, your Grandpa was a traditionalist, he never accepted our divorce. I just guessed, if I mentioned Sarah to him, it would’ve finalised everything for him. I guess I felt ashamed and like I failed him.
“He thought highly of Mum that’s all.”
“Maybe so, but you know he had a problem with your Mum being from Mauritia, at first. In the end, that’s all he admired about her. Our marriage was the first time a real wedge came between me and him.”
“I didn’t know that.” Surprised at the revelation, that Grandpa was a racist.
“He wasn’t a bigot, don’t get me wrong. People from his generation were… let’s just say less worldly, traditionalists and caught up on silly things.”
“Yeah, he was giving me a hard time about my clocks not working.”
“Well you need to know the time of the day son. How else would you know your place?”
“What were the other times? I asked
“You said your marriage to Mum was the first time things got bad between you two.” I felt I had Dad in the right place to find out more about him and Grandpa.
Dad went silent again.
“Like I said, he was a man of his time.” He started the sentence, to somehow justify Grandpa’s behaviour, on what he was about to reveal to me. “When your Mum fell pregnant with Dominic and we found out that he might have Down Syndrome. The Doctors advised us to have an abortion. Which we were obviously against, well… your Grandpa wasn’t exactly supportive of our decision.”
“Really Grandpa, the church goer?”
“He only became a serious Church goer after your Grandma died.”
“But he loved Dominic, didn’t he pay for all his private care?”
“Yeah, I guess he realised the error of his thought, after he was born. His way of making up for it, his redemption, I imagine.”
“Did you really say to him that Grandma’s Clock wouldn’t fit the deco in your house?”
“I only told him that, ‘cos I couldn’t bear any reminders of mum.”
“You still miss her?”
“What about Grandpa do you miss him?”
“You know me and your Grandpa had become distant. We both managed to build our lives without each other in the last decade. I miss him now, but it’s just raw emotion. I’ll be back to my life without him and nothing will change. I’m sorry if it sounds cold, but I just want to be honest.”
“He wasn’t the man to me that he was to you; you got to experience the softer version of him. The one I didn’t recognise. And I’m glad you did.” He said looking outside my window. “I’m glad you both got to have relationship; I never wanted my relationship with him to interfere with yours.”
“I didn’t realise it was so deep and turbulent.”
“Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Men of that generation never knew closeness, quick to ship off to boarding school, that type of thing.”
“Do you think he regretted that? I feel he felt your absence recently.”
“He might have, but your Grandpa never needed anyone around to validate his life. He might have pretended he did, but he was content. I knew that, hence it became easier to become distant. He taught me my time and space though, always kept me focussed with words, which I didn’t know what it meant until it happened. And I’ve always been thankful for that for him. I’d like to feel I done the same with you.”
I looked at Dad, he always gave me the best version of himself, it wasn’t his fault I was stuck in this predicament in life. Where I was not sure where I was going.
“Whatever happened with your engineering degree, I’m sure selling insurance, isn’t what you want to do?” He asked me.
“What makes you say that?
“Look around,” he pointed to my bookshelf, my model building, canvases of famous landmarks and architectures. “People who want to sell insurance, don’t have this much character.”
He smiled at me like he saw the world of potential in me. He came and sat down next to me
“Sometimes we all need to take a leap in our faith and believe in ourselves. Sometime I take pride in thinking, I taught you to do just that. He put his arms around me. I don’t want to tell you how to lead your life. I just want us to be open and not end up like your Grandpa and I.”
I patted Dad on the back.
“We won’t, you’ve always been great to us, I could never fault you.”
“Maybe I could stick around, you know spend more time with you.”
“No, you have nothing to make up for, this is your time, be with Sarah, travel the world.”
“What if I stick around to be a Grandpa myself?”
I looked at him.
“Sorry son shouldn’t have said that. Anyway, here you go.” He handed me the brown paper bag, he had in his hands since he entered.
“Your Grandpa’s neighbour gave it to me at the church. She found it on his table. Apparently, he told her he bought it for you, the day before. . . well you know.”
I peeked inside the bag and took out a pack of 12 AA Batteries.
“He knew I wouldn’t buy it.” My voice broke, tears exited my eyes without control. I laid my head on Dad’s shoulders.
Abi stood behind me, as I inserted two AA batteries in my bedroom clock. The second hand came alive, like a bear awoken from hibernation with a new purpose. I twisted the rotator to correct the time and fixed it on top of my fireplace, where Grandma’s clock once was. Underneath, on the mantelpiece was the envelope with Robert’s name on it, inside my resignation letter.
“I can stay one more night if you want?” Abi told me.
I gripped her hands, hoping she can read my mind and stay for good. I was ready to make it work.
“Aren’t you going to put the batteries in the other one? She pointed at the Pendulum Clock, which was placed in the corner.
“No,” I smiled at her. “That one has had its time and purpose. This one should be in our living room.” I showed her the remaining 10 batteries in the pack that Grandpa had bought for me. “I’m gonna leave them here, in this drawer.”
Abi’s eyes twinkled a bit like she had a glistening hope.
“You ok?” She asked me.
“Yes, I’m finding my bearing… my time and space.”