This is a simple, yet sad post that I wrote in the days after my grandfather died. He was an amazing, gentle man. A fishermen by trade. A member of the 2/14th, severely wounded attempting to evacuate his CO during the Battle of Isurava. A leader through actions. A man of God. I was hurting in the days after he died, and putting this post up brought a tear to my eye.
My Grandad was more than a Grandfather. After my Dad died, he was the man to step in and helped fill a void in my life, becoming an influence on me in the only way he knew how – gently, quietly and patiently. He put up with my teenage attitudes while we lived next door. He was just there. Waiting. Waiting for me to come around and want to talk.
That time eventually came. We talked. For hours. On the phone, in letters, in person with a little scotch. We laughed. We solved the world’s problems. We talked crap. We teased Mum. I loved his company. Once we were back, living nearby, I would just go sit and read next to Grandad. I was desperate for peace away from the kids to get through my uni readings, he loved the company and never felt the need to fill the air with unnecessary words. We would read together for hours. Silent. Present in each other company. Happy.
In his later years, Grandad’s frailty became more and more apparent. For years I was convinced each time I left his home, it would be the last time I would see him. There were many tears shed as I would head back up north to Darwin, convinced there would be no more. Especially just after my Nanna died – my old mate seemed broken. His heart certainly was.
The love of his life was gone. My grandparents were married for over 60 years. They had 15 children together. A herd of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They had fun together. Adventures. Camping trips around Australia in to their 70’s and 80’s They spent days and days together. Chatting. Laughing. Teasing each other. No one would have begrudged him if he had left then. But I think he knew the family couldn’t handle so much grief in such a short time. He stuck around. I always felt it was more for us than him.
He did more than stick around though. He lived. He travelled. Sydney. Broome. Darwin. Copenhagen. Herrljunga – Sweden. Oh, Sweden. He was welcomed like a rock star and treated like a king. A life-long dream realised in his early 90’s. He was reunited with his father’s family after a mere 125 years of separation. Diligent genealogy had opened a door and my Grandad shuffled through it, ready to meet some more family and make the most of it.
There was afternoon teas, dinners, a lunch attended by nearly 100 people who came purely to meet him. Our hosts moved out of their house in the embodiment of Swedish hospitality to allow their elderly relative to be comfortable. He stayed for six weeks. A passionate patriot, I asked him towards the end if he was actually going to go home. He smiled wistfully, and for a while and said, “Maybe not”. He did shuffle home eventually, but he made a mark far larger than his frame. There are family there that will be shedding a tear for Dear Old Jack, such was his impact on that trip.
Now, I’m left to prepare for a life without my dear old mate. No more stopping in to see him. No more hugs – those big, meaty hands, clasped on to my shoulders. No more chats, about little things and big. No more sitting, watching him sleep, as the twilight of his life became so tiring. No more silent scotches, their air full of mutual appreciation and love, rather than words and noise.
My heart is broken, Grandad. Simple words do it no justice. I never wanted you to go, but I could never wish you back. You are in the arms of your Lord and your God. In the arms of your beautiful Vera. There are plenty of mates waiting there for you too– and I reckon your Mother and Father, Charlie, Joe, Peter, Gerard and Margie are at the front of the queue, desperate to share a whisky and hear about how nice that mob over in Sweden were to you. To sit and to chat. To reminisce about old times.