On parents, grandparents and the fragileness of life

February 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

This is another one of those non-business related posts, so feel free to tune out 🙂

I actually find writing a blog to be very cathartic, so share a bit more of my feelings in the virtual world than I do in person. It’s actually very enjoyable and I get to say things the way I want to, without being hamstrung by inflection, or tone or anything like that – it’s a great way to share.

I wrote a few weeks ago on legacy – now I’d like to write a little bit on life. I’ve recently had to front up to exactly how fragile life is and it’s left an indelible mark on me.

I probably should frame up the back story, so bear with me – I’m not overly close with my parents or my sister, I never really have been – in my mind they’re deeply flawed people (even more so than myself) that don’t reflect who I am or what I’m about. In saying that, I am (or was) very close to my maternal grandparents

My grandfather was a large, physically imposing man – even in his older age he always had a certain presence about him – the “I’m not a man to be messed with” presence. He was never violent, or certainly not that I’d ever seen, but you could tell that he possessed the ability to be ferociously so. In any case, pretty much everything that I learnt about being a man I’d learnt from my grandfather, from the right way to shake a hand (firm while looking in a man’s eyes) to where to walk when you were walking on the street with a lady (the side closest to the road just in case a car mounted the footpath and you had to push her out of the way) . He was a man who’d had his own business, sold that, bought a cab and spent 20 some years driving that cab all around Sydney until he retired to spend his days with my grandmother. When my parents divorced when I was 12, I spent even more time with my grandfather and I’m eternally grateful for that time and the lessons I’d learnt – even just hanging out down in his garage ‘helping’ him do some handiwork.

I learnt different life skills from my grandmother, I learnt exactly what it was to have simple fun without complications or requiring electricity. We used to walk home from the shopping centre and then every now and then break out into a skip and sing along while we were doing it. I’m sure a 13 year old boy and his 60 something year old grandmother doing that looked quite weird, but it’s as happy as I can ever remember being doing anything. No more than a year ago I was taking my grandmother to bingo as often as I could and I’d still hold her hand while walking through the bingo hall and she’d proudly introduce me as “her number 1 grandson” to everyone and no-one in particular. Even at 29 years old it still made my heart sing hearing her say that about me.

I also used to stay several weeks at my grandparents during the December school holidays – every morning my nan and pop used to get up at 6am and walk probably 5 kilometres to pick up the days paper, bread and probably a cake and head back to read those papers. I used to get up at 545am when I was staying there just to make sure I wouldn’t miss them and be in the lounge room patiently waiting for them to go, I used to hold both of their hands and talk about everything and nothing and again, I can’t remember being that happy before or since.

Unfortunately old age and Alzheimers robbed my grandfather of his strength, first his physical, then his mental strength, then his character until he was feeble of body and mind and this proud, strong man required someone to help him go to the toilet. I used to go and see him as much as I could and I would weep as soon as I left for hours from seeing the dignity robbed from someone I loved so much. Time is a cruel, cruel mistress and I was almost thankful to see him go after everything else was taken from him. I’ll never forget the life lessons I learnt from him and I’ll forever be disappointed that I didn’t make it back from living overseas to say goodbye to him before he went.

Unfortunately – my grandmother is headed down the same path – a woman who lived in the same street ALL of her life, over 80 years (she moved from number 23 when living with her parents to number 3 with her new husband – my grandfather) had to be moved into a nursing home about 12 months ago because she’d become too much for my mother to look after. Initially she was just frail of body but over the last few months she’s become increasingly frail of mind and the prompt for this blog was a visit to her this past Sunday which was the first time that she had no idea who I was – I was just another stranger to her, just another face in her day, I wasn’t her “number one grandson” anymore. Those of you who have had loved ones in this state know what I’m talking about, those of you who have been fortunate enough to have not had loved ones in this state can only imagine the personal pain you feel by having someone who is such a big part of your life be there in person, but not know who you are. It’s a unique kind of feeling that is maybe more devastating than losing someone altogether, at least in my opinion.

What’s my point for today? Well.. I guess the point is this – I remember when my grandparents were the vibrant people that skipped, ran, played cricket with me, fixed things around the house, cooked, had jobs – basically what my parents do today and all of those things feel like yesterday, but today I’m faced with a grandfather who’s gone and a grandmother who has no idea who the loved ones in her life is – life is terribly fleeting, more so when you think in those terms, so maybe I should make more of an effort with my parents? Will it take them becoming ill, or being in a nursing home for me to realise that I should have spent more time with them?

I’m reminded of the Mike and the Mechanics song – “In the Living Years” – which has always resonated with me, even when I was young – cherishing the time you have with loved ones is one of the most important things you can do because time is something you can’t get back.

I have to go and make some phone calls to my parents now – If you haven’t done so today and are lucky enough to have them around still, may I respectfully suggest that you do too?

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