I’m almost 30. I’ve got a tertiary qualification and used to worked full-time. I’ve moved out of home, bought and sold a house, and bought another. I’ve fallen in love and gotten married. I’ve written a will. I own a car and a few shares. But I never felt like a grown-up. Not really. I think because I’ve always been the youngest child in my family, and one of the youngest grandchildren, I’d fallen into the “They all think I’m young so I must be young,” mentality. I’m not sure.
But I can pinpoint the exact moment I felt like an adult. A grown-up. Someone mature and responsible and capable.
It was when one of my Husband’s grandparents died. About a year after we were married, Grandpa became quite ill. Cancer. Inoperable. Months to live.
We spent as much time as we could with Grandpa. But the inevitable came. His health went downhill rapidly. He was admitted to Palliative Care at the local hospital.
Husband and I visited as often as we could – at least three or four times a week. But one day we walked in and he was asleep. Grandma was weeping in the corner.
“He’s just so confused today,” she told us. The nurses had increased his morphine. Again. We sat. We watched him breathing in and out with so much effort I was frightened he’d die right then and there. But he struggled on. He woke up briefly and said a few words to us, then fell asleep again. Grandma started crying again and Husband took her out of the room for a bit of fresh air. For the first time, I was alone with Grandpa. Alone with a man who was clearly days, if not hours, from death.
I sat at a chair by his bedside. Every time he’d exhale, there would be agonizing seconds of nothing and I would pray that he took another breath in. He eventually would with this huge horrible gasp. I never knew how much effort went into breathing before then. I was alone with him for about 15 minutes, listening to his death rattle. I wish I’d have chatted to him, about something or nothing. I had a feeling he could still hear. We’d left his hearing aids in. But instead, I just stared at his chest and thought, “Is this what makes me a grown-up? Sitting here watching someone die?”
That afternoon, we rang the whole family. They all joined us at the hospital. Grandpa died that night, with his wife and children in the room. The grandchildren and partners, including me, were down the hall, in a sitting room where we could make tea, sit on sofas and stare at walls. Husband’s mum and dad came into the room a few minutes later and told us. Everyone cried except me. Maybe that makes me a cold unfeeling person. But I was too busy trying to comfort Husband, holding him close to me and saying nothing. There’s really nothing to say in situations like this, is there?
It was late, we were all told to go home. We’d convene again in the morning. Mother-in-law put her arms around my still crying Husband and began to walk him out to our car. My darling father-in-law who I adore held my hand tightly and said to me, “I know Husband will be okay because you’re there to look after him. And we couldn’t have picked a better person ourselves. He’s very lucky to have you.” That’s when I started crying. Thankfully Husband didn’t see. I wanted to be strong for him. I did not want him to feel he had to comfort me.
Among all the family and friends, two of the bartenders at Grandpa’s local RSL came to his funeral. As did two of the palliative care nurses from the hospital, the regular Silver Chain nurse, Grandpa’s GP and the lady at the local newsagent to whom Grandpa always announced “I have the winning lotto ticket!” every Monday morning. None of these people knew Grandpa well, but he’d clearly wormed his way into their hearts, like he did mine. I only knew him a little while – a few years out of the 76 he’d lived – but he was an incredible man. He built dollhouses out of scrap wood and furnished them with tiny intricate wooden furniture he made from off-cuts. He sold 17 fully-furnished houses on e-bay and made quite a lot of money. His 18th house remains unfinished and unfurnished, shut away in a bedroom of the house he and Grandma shared for nearly 40 years. It was a replica of the tiny two-up, two-down house he’d grown up in near the village of Twyford, Berkshire.
It’s his birthday today. He’d have been 80. So happy birthday Grandpa. I’m baking a cake for you today – it’s your favourite. We miss you. xxxx