At some point soon I’ve got to explain to my children that they’ll never see Granny Pat again.
They’re 5 and 3 and while the journey might be a great adventure for them, it won’t be a great environment for any of them. Mum won’t appreciate it. The fact that she’s in an incontinence pad upsets her enough. The fact that others see her like this upsets her too, and causes her real distress, which she can only communicate by whining or groaning. Her grandchildren, my children, won’t notice any of this. I know that much. But it’s for the best we don’t go to see her.
“It’s for the best.”
I was told this when I was a little boy. When my grandfather suffered a similar stroke and was admitted to hospital. That’s what they did in those days. They didn’t have the nursing care available in homes like they do now, so people were admitted, long-term, to geriatric hospitals. Until they died.
One day my grandfather got ill. I went to see him in hospital, St Thomas’, where mum is now, and then he came home. My gran looked after him until he had another stroke and then he went to a hospital and died there.
I saw him once at this second hospital in Landor Road, in Clapham.
Landor Road used to be a euphemism for where old people went to die. At least it was in our family. Where old, ill people sat in their own soiled clothes in bed, and died.
“Don’t let me end up in Landor Road. I’d rather die than sit in a nappy.” mum said on numerous occasions.
My gran took me to Landor Road to see my grandfather. That was also for the best. My family went to see him regularly but I was making a visit to, in retrospect, say goodbye. I guess. I was 8.
He was in a bed. He smelt of wee and poo and he couldn’t move much. He tried to speak, but the nurse said he couldn’t really communicate very well. I could hear him say my name so he was obviously making an effort that day.
We sat and I held his hand. His huge hands. Hardened from years of work, yet soft and gentle whenever mine were engulfed by his when he helped me onto a bus, or when we crossed the road. His huge hands. Hands that fired rifles during the Spanish Civil War, and during the Second World War. Hands that held a Bible. Hands that prayed for every fucking lost soul and for anyone he loved. Hands which shook Gandhi’s and Viscount Montgomery’s, Mountbatten’s and other people he met along his way. Hands which held his brothers as they died in Spain. Hands which held his sisters bags and said goodbye when she went to a convent. Hands which waved goodbye to my aunt when she went to the US and wiped his own tears away so he could continue seeing, so he could continue waving. Hands that when he put them on my shoulder always made me feel safe and protected. Hands which used tools at work, hands which grabbed pickaxes and slammed them into concrete and tarmac when digging up roads. Hands which gently put my hair back in place when we sat on buses together when he was well, and used to take me to parks and playgrounds and tell me things. And give me sweets. Hands which wiped my tears away. Hands which held mine and made me know Life would be okay.
I didn’t have a father. Well, I did, but he wasn’t around. I didn’t know my father and I didn’t know what a dad was. I knew men. Mum had a husband. She married him when I was 2 or so. He put us both in hospital.
I didn’t know men but I knew my grandfather was one of them men things. He was a good man. I say that based on my experience of him. Not out of love.
‘It’ll be okay. You’re a good lad. I have my faith in you Spencer.”
‘I love you. Thank you.”
‘Love is all we know. When it’s there and when it’s not. And I love you to… you see that moon? All the way there and back. And round the corner. God bless you.’
His voice cracked when he said that. It went higher and he held me close. A smell of Brylcreem, Imperial Leather and the rough rub of his blazer against my cheek.
If I had to say how I felt about him out of love, then I just don’t have the words.
Actually, I do have one word to describe him. It’s not grandfather. It’s grandaddy. It’s what I always called him.
My grandaddy had a thick Irish accent so that, and the stroke, meant he was almost impossible to understand when I went to see him in Landor Road that day.
We made to leave, his hand got tighter around mine. I’d never felt that before. It scared me a bit. His huge hand wouldn’t let go of mine. And he spoke. As clear as anything. Slurred words from a face dead on one side, cascades of tears pouring from his eyes. His words as clear as anything.
“I love you Spencer. God bless you.”
He died a week later. He was a very religious man, so I know those words meant all of his soul.
I’ve got to explain to my children they won’t see Granny Pat again. Tiernan will get this. He’ll understand but I think it will upset his younger sister.
Mum didn’t do a great deal with her grandchildren. Her health meant she didn’t and her attitude meant that often she didn’t want to, but we ensured that at Christmas time and birthday time that there was always a present from Granny Pat, even if Granny Pat wasn’t there.
I put this wee top on Keela once. It was from Monsoon. My aunt bought it in the sale on behalf of my mum and my mum would’ve hated it because it had the colour cerise in it, and cerise always gave mum headache, but I explained to Keela that this was a present from Granny Pat.
She ran to the other side of the room and ran back to me.
“Granny Pat bought me this. It’s SO pretty.”
She did it again. She ran to the door and smoothed herself down. She walked over and whispered to me.
“Granny Pat bought me this. It’s SO pretty. I look beautiful.”
“You always look beautiful darling girl. Always.”
“But Granny Pat bought me this. I love Granny Pat.”
After that, every time she put on something new, or if anyone got anything out of the drawer that looked new she’d say “Is that from Granny Pat?”
Every time I see the children I get a hug and Tiernan holds me like he doesn’t want to let go. Keela always asks “Is Granny Pat with you?”
Every time I Skype the children I speak to them. Tiernan tells me about dinosaurs and Keela always asks “Is Granny Pat with you?”
I know mum made her own choices about which care to take, who to rely on, which hospital appointments to go to, which ones to not go to, which ones to lie about, which food to eat, which medicines to take and which ones not to take. I begged her to do the right thing. I said to her on so many occasions “Please, do it for your grandchildren.” So they can spend time with you. God knows how much I missed my grandfather when he died. You can do all these things and your life will be okay. You can see your grandchildren. They love you. Keela does. Love. You. Mum…
As do I.
I get that she didn’t care enough to do this for me. I get she didn’t care enough about me to change things.
But at some point I’ve got to tell Keela that she won’t be seeing Granny Pat again. And I promised my daughter when she was born that I’d never bring any sadness into her life.
But then I guess we all make that unrealistic promise at some point.
It’s for the best.